Housing and Regeneration Bill

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New Clause 9

Design of new dwellings
‘The Secretary of State shall amend Part M of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 2000 (access to and use of buildings) to ensure that all new dwellings of whatever type or tenure meet enhanced minimum standards in relation to—
(a) the provision of a reasonable means of access into and around the dwelling and ease of use, without modification, by the widest possible range of individuals (including disabled persons);
(b) future ease of adaptation to provide full access into and around the dwelling and ease of use for wheelchair users; and
(c) the capacity of the dwelling to meet the changing needs of any occupiers over their lifetime;
within 6 months of the coming into force of this Act.’.—[Sir George Young.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Sir George Young: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 11, in clause 173, page 68, line 5, after ‘extent’, insert ‘, accessibility’.
Amendment No. 9, in clause 173, page 68, line 24, at end insert—
‘(m) facilitating timely provision of adaptations to tenants’ homes for a disabled occupant (whether by means of assistance provided under Part 1 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (c. 53) or otherwise).’.
Sir George Young: We now sail into slightly calmer waters with new clause 9, which has a breadth of political support denied to the last two new clauses which we debated. This new clause deals with the building regulations, and these regulations apply to all housing, not just social housing. The new clause seeks to bring forward the amendments to part M. The conditions I would like to see as part of these amendments are set out in the new clause, and the new clause suggests that these be implemented within six months of Royal Assent.
The new clause touches on some of the arguments adduced in our debate a fortnight ago on the first set of amendments. This can be found in column 154 of the Official Report and focused on the remit of the HCA to promote accessibility of new housing. In that debate, in column 155, I referred to part M of the building regulations, and in column 156 I asked the Minister whether he could shed some light on where we were heading with those.
The Minister replied in column 159. It was a helpful reply, and I welcome what he said. With respect, however, he sidestepped the direct question about the future of the building regulations. His reply was about lifetime home standards, and he said that these
“set out criteria that make homes more adaptable to people’s changing circumstances”——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 159.]
“create homes that are specifically built”——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 159.]
He went on to say:
“Our intention is for all homes funded by the public sector to be developed as lifetime homes by 2011.” ——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 159.]
That is very different from what is in the new clause, which has a much earlier start date without the restriction to public sector homes. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire and the hon. Member for St. Ives also intervened in our debate on January 10. I do not want to rehearse in any detail the arguments I put forward then, but I will summarise the present situation.
The current regulations are, in part, approved document M, which deals with access to an use of buildings. This contains a requirement that for new private dwellings, reasonable provision shall be made for disabled people to gain access to and use the building. That is to say there is a requirement to make sure all new private dwellings can be visited by the disabled and other such individuals. There was an exchange as to whether the regulations went further than covering people who visit. I looked at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website, and in particular a page called “The impact of Part M on the design of new housing”, which summarised the conclusions and found that:
“Part M is half-hearted and does not address the real housing needs of disabled people, namely for liveable rather than visitable housing.”
I welcome the amendments introduced by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich when he was Minister; they are of real benefit to those who visit houses, but they do not go quite as far as those in the new clause, which is why I have tabled it: in order to press the Minister as to the Government’s intentions. The revisions that were introduced represent a step forward, and I apologise if I did not pay a fulsome tribute to the right hon. Gentleman in the earlier debate. They make accommodation more accessible to those with disabilities, to young mothers with buggies, to teenagers with broken legs, to visiting grandparents, and to many others. It is good to have those facilities in-built when the house is being constructed. These new controls, however, do not go the go the whole way towards introducing the full lifetime home standards, and further work is now needed to introduce and implement the remaining elements.
In 2003, Lord Rooker was asked a question in the other place about the review of part M. On October 15 2003, he said:
“My Lords, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has recently commissioned research to evaluate the impact of the changes to Part M of the building regulations, which concerns the accessibility of all new homes and was introduced in 1999. The work is expected to begin before Christmas and to report in about two years' time.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 October 2003; Vol. 563, c. 934.]
Over four years have elapsed since that statement. We now need to know what has happened to that report and what action the Government proposes to take in order to build on the existing regulations.
Looking at a reply given by a Minister in another place in December, it seems to me that the Government are not planning to take forward the building regulations but are relying on a non-regulatory code. I quote Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:
“On the lifetime home standard and housing for people with disability, the Government have decided to take forward lifetime homes, at least in the first instance, through a code for sustainable homes. The Government consider the code to be extremely important. Its aim is to give developers a non-regulatory means of improving the sustainability of buildings and to become the single national standard”.
She went on to say:
“Nor does putting it in the code rule out making lifetime homes part of the regulatory base in the long run. This is an issue which government will continue to keep under close review.”
It would be helpful therefore if the Government defined more clearly whether they see the building regulations as the agency for driving forward progress or whether they are going rely on non-regulatory means. If they do have plans for further amendment to the building regulations, what exactly is the time scale for them against the background of the answer of four years ago I quoted from Lord Rooker?
Andrew George: I wish to add two points to embellish the excellent case made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. First, before I was elected to this House, I sought in a previous life as a professional officer to encourage registered social landlords and local authorities to develop in new schemes the capacity to adapt properties for those who may have a disability or who for other reasons need to be able to adapt that property in future. I have welcomed the lifetime homes standard. The new clause 9 brings this forward and seeks to implement it as quickly as possible. I would hope that, given the spirit in which the Government has moved this agenda on quite significantly in the last ten years, they will accept this amendment and the spirit in which this amendment is brought forward. I hope they can find a way of speeding up the capacity to achieve this.
My second point covers the role of disabled facilities grants, as referred to by implication in amendment No. 9, which is grouped with new clause 9. I strongly endorse the speedy introduction of these measures. The problem is—I am sure that many hon. and right hon. Members here have the same experience as I do in my constituency—the limitations of the disabled facilities grants. The Government are seeking quite rightly and with all-party support to do what they can to encourage greater independent living for disabled people, for elderly people and for others who may in the past have been living in institutional care. We are encouraging people to live in their own homes and to enable them with adaptation to achieve that. The disabled facilities grants are part of the means by which this can be achieved. The waiting list to achieve those adaptations is so great, however, that often that is extremely difficult and for those people waiting for those adaptations it means that they are in quasi-institutional care or certainly imprisoned in their own houses and unable to use all the facilities of their home, including washing facilities.
If the amendment were accepted, it would quite rightly put pressure on the Government to ensure that the resources are in place to deliver disabled facilities grants and to enable people to, quite rightly, live independently in their own property. I hope that the Minister will take on board the spirit in which the amendments have been tabled and, even if he is unable to accept them as drafted, I hope he can find a way for the Government to introduce some redrafts to achieve the same objective.
5.45 pm
Mr. Raynsford: I shall not detain the Committee for long, but there are a number of issues that should be mentioned. I broadly support the objectives of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire in wanting to highlight the importance of improving the standard of new housing, especially the provision of access for disabled people. However, I fear that his new clause is defective in a number of ways.
The first provision—paragraph (a)—is actually a statement of the existing requirement in part M of the building regulations, so the new clause would not take us beyond that. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman cited part M in his comments. He also quoted the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as being rather defamatory about part M. In fact, it warmly welcomed part M when it was introduced in 1999, and its then chief executive, Lord Best, played a key role in brokering an agreement between the disability lobby and the house builders—indeed, he paved the way for it. There had previously been some resistance on the part of the house building industry towards the introduction of part M, and I remember the Joseph Rowntree Foundation hosting an event in which I participated on the day that the new part M came into force. At the time, I had been heavily criticised by some of elements of the media for doing away with the great British doorstep, and I well recall the full support of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and many others, including the disability lobby, for the introduction of part M in 1999. As I said in a previous debate, part M had not been introduced by the previous Conservative Government, despite strong pressure from the disability lobby.
While I do not think that paragraph (a) is needed, paragraph (b) is crucial because it refers to lifetime homes. However, as the Minister has already made clear, the Government are committed to the implementation of lifetime homes by 2011. The rushed implementation implicit in the new clause tabled by the right hon. Gentleman is not appropriate. As a former Minister, he will recall that an important but lengthy consultation process is required to consider changes to building regulations. That is necessary for a variety of reasons: to ensure that all relevant parties are consulted; to consider all relevant technical issues; and to ensure that the interface among proposed changes in one area of building regulations and other areas are fully tested. Changes that might seem desirable in one respect can have unfortunate consequences in others.
Sir George Young: It is a pleasure to listen to a ministerial reply being delivered from the Back Benches. The lifetime homes standards apply only to public sector homes—that was the commitment. What length of time does the right hon. Gentleman think is appropriate to make progress along the lines of paragraph (b), given the need to consult with the house building industry?
Mr. Raynsford: I was about to describe the process and to say that one of the conclusions that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee has come to as a result of several recent changes is the importance of better co-ordination of changes. Indeed, Local Authority Building Control has pressed the Government not to introduce one-off changes to individual regulations because that can cause a difficulty with implementation. The right hon. Gentleman might recall that when the latest change to part L was introduced, it was done in a way that caused anxiety in the industry because people were not prepared and did not have time to get the necessary arrangements in place for full implementation.
Six months after the Act comes into force is a completely unrealistic timetable in which to amend part M, particularly in a climate where there is concern to achieve better co-ordination among the different parts of the building regulations and to adopt a proper considered approach towards the cumulative effects of changes on buildings.
Paragraph (c) of the new clause seems completely unfeasible. Anticipating the changing needs of any occupiers of a building over their lifetime would require the wisdom of Solomon. The right hon. Gentleman might have that, but when he and I were born, we had no idea of the scope that there is now for electronic contributions to so many aspects of our lives. I am sure that other technological changes that no one can possibly anticipate now will be made in an equivalent period, but that is optimistic crystal ball gazing.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to raise the issue. It is important for us to continue looking at ways in which we can improve standards coherently, sensibly and in a way that the industry can implement. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give some assurances about the Government’s commitment to achieve that, while probably rejecting the amendments and new clause.
Alistair Burt: I rise to discuss the sentiment behind the new clause that was so ably moved by my right hon. Friend. I well remember the pressures described by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and the approaches of the disability lobby on this issue when I was Minister for Disabled People. Their arguments reminded people that this is about not only disability, but ageing. There is the cost of adaptations to homes and the issues raised when people are happily living somewhere with the feeling that they might have to leave and go somewhere else. I found the argument that we should consider how society gets older right at the beginning of the process of housing, and think about these things in a rather different way, very persuasive. I have always described involvement disability work as a benevolent ratchet—it always moves forward. Sometimes it does not go quite as quickly as the lobby would like, but with a succession of Ministers, both Labour and Conservative, it has moved in the right direction.
The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich was also right to indicate that the general reaction of those asked to make changes, whether that is in transport, government or private development, is usually to say no first and to stall. We then see adaptations coming through as we are doing with transport and the like. It might not be possible for the Minister to accept the new clause, but the arguments behind it are still valid. If we do not make changes quite like this, what will we do? Will we continue to have a process whereby due to the pressure of building new houses, we build them with smaller spaces for people? We are living in smaller units than we used to and the problem could get worse.
To what extent are the Government prepared to give guidance and, even if they cannot accept such a new clause, to say that there will be some changes and that they will be thinking about this sensibly for the future? This is about not future costs, but saving future costs in the long run. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire presented his case extremely well and the sentiment of the Committee is clear. I will be interested by how the Minister responds and what reassurances he can give us for the future.
Mr. Wright: This has been a high-quality debate, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich has already made many of my points. I cannot really stand up, following the consideration of the last new clause, without commenting on what the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield said in praise of Mrs. Thatcher. One of the reasons why I am in the Labour party is because of Mrs. Thatcher, who decimated the north-east and my constituency. Forgive me for that little rant, Mr. Benton, because we have had a well-meaning and high-quality debate.
I point out to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire that we made significant improvements in access to, and the use of, buildings in the last update of part M of the building regulations in 2004. Further measures to improve access and use have been developed through the lifetime homes standards, as we have mentioned on several occasions during our consideration of the Bill, not least today. As I said, lifetime homes standards are now included in the code for sustainable homes.
In our response to the public consultation on the code for sustainable homes, we clearly indicated our intended direction of travel and our speed, with lifetime homes standards required at code level 6 from 2008, code level 4 from 2010 and code level 3 from 2013. Moreover, from 2011, all new publicly funded housing will be built to include lifetime homes standards, and many schemes now starting on site will include those standards once they are completed.
I visited a development in Newcastle upon Tyne—another area that was decimated by Mrs. Thatcher—where houses with lifetime homes standards were being built. Their density and size and the amount of space were incredibly impressive. We continue to work with stakeholders in the private sector to encourage further uptake of the lifetime homes standards.
We said that by 2012 we would review the uptake of LHS in all sectors to assess whether legislation was required to meet our long-term targets, which brings me on to the subject of possible regulation. In March 2004, a commitment was made to review the feasibility of including LHS in part M of the building regulations. That was done, and one of the findings of the review was that the standards were not in a form suitable to support legislation and that they required updating and refining.
Since then, we have supported steps to address the issues. For example, on 11 January, the British Standards Institution published a draft for development on accessible homes, which will provide the basis for the review and development of the existing lifetime homes standards. We will ask the Building Regulations Advisory Committee to form a working party to contribute to the consultation on the draft for development, and it is envisaged that the working group will include a number of main BRAC members and seconded experts. We are committed to working with stakeholders to develop the most economic and robust way of delivering the benefits of lifetime homes standards.
This is a vital process, as it is widely recognised that the existing standards are not applicable to all housing types and that the technical guidance needs to be clarified and updated. Legislating on the basis of the current lifetime homes standards would be imprudent as they might lead to a significant number of appeals and disputes if they were translated into regulatory form.
It is important that we take this opportunity to ensure that the guidelines on lifetime homes standards are robust and will succeed in delivering the accessible and adaptable housing that is needed. That will also ensure that the lifetime homes standards are fit for regulation, if that proves necessary in the future.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich rightly mentioned the process for amending building regulations and he made his point very well. The process is lengthy and detailed, and it requires the formal amendment of the building regulations—the secondary legislation made under the powers in section 1 of the Building Act 1984.
As the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire is aware, to amend the regulations, we are obliged by law to follow a procedure that is likely to involve a review of existing legislation, a public consultation on proposed changes following the review, and the notification of draft and final amended guidance to the European Commission, in addition to the time required for the drafting and review of a highly technical subject. On that basis, I hope that the Committee will agree that the proposed time scale of six months is unrealistic.
We must also ensure that the industry has sufficient time to adapt its practices and designs to incorporate lifetime homes standards. That is particularly true for smaller developers and house builders that will be working to the standards for the first time and might not have the resources of larger organisations. As the draft standards mature during 2008 and 2009, builders will have the opportunity to visit early adopting schemes and to review emerging housing typologies. That will help to provide the entire house building industry with the necessary confidence and understanding to adopt and implement lifetime homes standards.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, as a result of the considerations, I think that regulation is not the best way to proceed. Amendment No. 11 would add the word “accessibility” to clause 173(1)(a) so that it would read:
“The regulator may set standards for registered providers as to—
(a) the nature, extent,”
“and quality of the social housing to be provided by them”.
I have no doubt that we will discuss clause 173 in more detail in the future. I understand that a large number of amendments have been tabled on that important part of the Bill. The aim of clause 173(1) is to specify in what general activities the regulator may set standards, namely the nature and extent of social housing, and the nature, extent and quality of accommodation facilities and services provided in connection with social housing. That means that only issues connected with social housing are covered.
6 pm
Standards for the design of new homes and the wider built infrastructure will not be a matter for the regulator, although they might be of concern to the Homes and Communities Agency. There are activities to do with accessibility of social housing where it would be appropriate for the regulator to set standards. I suggest to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire that those are covered by clause 173(1)(b), which permits
“the nature, extent and quality of accommodation, facilities or services provided by them in connection with social housing.”
Therefore, a specific mention of accessibility would be an unnecessary level of detail in subsection (1).
New clause 9 would also amend clause 173, and would add to the list of areas where standards may by issued. It would add a new paragraph (m), which says that standards may cover the timely facilitation of adaptations to tenants’ homes for the disabled. We are back to the list principle that we have mentioned many times. The measure is not necessary because clause 173(1)(b) already allows the regulator to set standards in the area—for social housing only—and it can do so when it is appropriate and necessary. The new clause would not compel the regulator to set standards. It is the regulator’s decision what to set standards on, through consultation with stakeholders on what those should be.
If there is no Housing Corporation regulation, choosing to regulate in the future would be an additional burden on housing associations. We are committed to reducing the burdens on the sector, and it is a clear objective of the regulator to regulate with minimal interference. Housing associations currently meet the cost of small adaptations from their own resources, but larger ones require outside funding.
We strongly encourage the adaptation of suitable homes. Our disabled facilities grant, which we may discuss in subsequent new clauses, enables people to continue to live independently in their own homes, by funding adaptations to meet their needs. It is highly successful, with Government funding increasing from £57 million in 1997 to £126 million last year. In 2008-09, funding will increase by 20 per cent., bringing the disabled facilities grant budget to £146 million per year.
Despite the success of the disabled facilities grant, we accept that the programme is still in need of improvement. That is why we launched a cross-departmental review of the programme, and a package of changes to improve it will be announced shortly. I believe that the Housing Corporation currently expects associations to provide tenants with adaptations where required, and it is expected to make provision for this in its business plans. If so, that might be an issue for the Homes and Communities Agency to address in grant provisions.
I hope that I have addressed that thoroughly enough for the Committee, and on that basis I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.
Sir George Young: It would be unduly aggressive of me to do what the hon. Gentleman implied and press the matter to a vote. I want to make a number of short points, however.
I am sure that the Blair Government was able to do things that the Major Government did not do in this sector. I need to reassure people that the Cameron Government will do things that the Brown Government was not able to do. If one looks at the development of improved facilities for disabled people, there is a continuum through all parties beginning, in my political lifetime, with Alf Morris, which has gone right through and has been apolitical. My anxiety is that there should not be a loss of momentum.
The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich mentioned that in 1999 he introduced the regulations that we have referred to. That is what he achieved between 1997 and 1999. My concern is that the trail should not now go cold. Here we are in 2008, and the building regulations do not seem to have moved forward enormously. A working party is going to consult, but the Minister was not able to give specific dates on the building regulations. I welcome what he said about sustainable homes and lifetime homes standards, but I think that that is all non-statutory. It is voluntary and does not have the teeth that the building regulations will have. If we do not achieve the progress that we want, it may be necessary to revive the building regulations as the engine of progress.
It has been a useful debate. The Minister has shed some light on the matter and his heart is clearly in the right place, but it is an area that we may have to keep an eye on to maintain the momentum. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
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