Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) (HPB 129)

Housing and Planning Bill

The Royal Institute of British Architects champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our 40,000 members. We provide the standards, training, support and recognition that put our members – in the UK and overseas – at the peak of their profession. With government and our partners, we work to improve the design quality of public buildings, new homes and new communities.

1. The RIBA is pleased that the Government recognises the importance of tackling the shortfall in the number of new homes being built across the country and welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the committee for consideration.

2. The UK finds itself in the midst of a housing crisis that is having major impacts on families, the economy and the environment. Combined with the measures contained in the Cities and Local Government Bill and the Autumn Statement, we hope that that Housing & Planning Bill can help to address the major built environment challenges we face today.

3. Of all the barriers to increasing the number of new homes, the greatest single challenge remains public concern about the impact of new homes on local communities and the public services, transport links and green spaces they currently enjoy. Whilst there are a number of measures in this bill that we strongly support, we are concerned that in its current form, the Housing and Planning Bill fails to address the issue of what we can do to promote not just more housebuilding, but the building of better homes and strong communities.

4. We are concerned that at a time where progress is being made to improve the quality of new homes, this bill contains few safeguards or mechanisms to allow local communities to push developers in their area to meet the aspirations of the community about the quality of a proposed development. There is a danger that the move to reduce the regulatory burden will also make it easier for developers to deliver homes which do not deliver over the long-term for their residents.

5. In addition, the impacts of localism are creating uncertainty for architects and their clients as to how national regulations will apply in local areas and how those regulations are expected to be enforced. We strongly support the Government’s commitment to localism, however, for it to deliver on its potential there is a need for greater clarity around the level at which decisions are to be taken.

6. Our comments on this Bill reflect our positions on the key policy areas as well as areas which we hope can be clarified during the Parliamentary debate of this Bill.

The Housing and Planning Bill is right to focus on increasing the number of homes being built, but this must not come at the expense of lower build quality.

7. The political priority afforded to housing by this Government is very welcome. However, the RIBA is concerned that there is a danger that some of the proposals within the Bill could potentially make it much harder for local communities to determine what types of housing should be built in their area and for them to encourage developers to meet standards on issues such as space, environmental performance and accessibility.

8. Of particular concern are the proposals to make permanent the ability to convert office buildings to residential use via permitted development rather than through the planning system. While the RIBA supports the re-use and re-purposing of buildings, the lack of regulation has led to the development of many homes that fall far below standards which apply to new homes.

9. The RIBA National Awards and the Housing Design Awards included a number of new housing schemes recognised for their high-quality design. We would welcome the opportunity to show members of the committee round these developments.

The growing pressure on planning resources in local authorities is endangering place-making capacity

10. Over recent years, England’s planning system has undergone significant changes. While many of these have speeded up and simplified the planning process, the decrease in resources available to local authorities has created significant delays in many planning departments. In addition, the growth in the number of planning appeals has led to a delays of up to two years at the appeal stage.

11. We share the concerns of the Royal Town Planning Institute about the additional duties on local authorities contained in this bill without the prospect of additional funding to deliver them. We would urge the Department for Communities and Local Government to work with local authorities to address the resource pressures.

There is need for action to speed up the adoption of the new national space standard

12. The decision to create local authorities to adopt a single national space standard earlier this year was a very welcome statement. We believe that many of the homes built by the UK’s largest housebuilders are amongst the smallest new homes built anywhere in Europe. However, before the standard is adopted, the new regulations require a complex and expensive process is followed by a local authority. As a result, we are concerned that few local authorities will adopt the standard.

13. A much more straightforward approach would be to incorporate the new standard into the Building Regulations which cover all new buildings in the UK. This would create a level playing field and regulatory certainty for housebuilders, as well as ensuring that buyers of new homes can be certain that their new home will have enough room to accommodate the number of people it was sold to accommodate.

14. Recent research from the RIBA has shown that a number of the UK’s largest housebuilders have significantly increased the size of the homes they are selling. This is welcome, but the progress particularly in the North of England has been disappointingly slow.

Architects are looking for more information about what the devolution aspect of city deals will mean for housing policy

15. Local leadership across the UK has been one of the strongest promoters of high-quality development. We are therefore very pleased that a number of the devolution deals agreed between central and local government have included greater strategic planning and housing powers.

16. London has shown how things can be done well through the creation of the London Housing Design Guide and the London Land Commission. However, to ensure that the devolution process is as effective as possible at delivering locally led development, we believe the government needs to provide greater clarity about which issues will be locally determined and where decision making powers will be reserved by national government.

Cuts at housing associations will have an impact on the whole housing market

17. In recent years, housing associations have been major providers of new homes across England. In many areas they have also played an important role in setting high standards for other local developers on quality, sustainability and space. The RIBA is seeing rising concern from our members about the development intentions of housing associations with a number of scheduled projects delayed or cancelled. The absence of housing associations from the housing supply mix will we believe have a negative impact on the quantity and quality of new homes being delivered in many areas.]

The extension of permitted development to cover brownfield land through the introduction of a zonal planning system needs stronger safeguards

18. Speeding up the delivery of new homes on brownfield land is a welcome priority, especially in areas like London and Oxford where the lack of available development land is causing serious affordability problems. In addition, well designed and delivered regenerations schemes have proved incredibly successful at transforming previously industrial areas across the UK. We are particularly positive about the decision to collect greater information on public sector owned brownfield land in major cities.

19. However, as it currently stands, the Housing & Planning Bill contains no safeguards for local communities or planning authorities where development has been proposed in areas where there is a lack of infrastructure or where a scheme fails to meet local standards.

20. As we have already seen from the large number of very small and very low quality office to residential conversions in London and other cities, the use of permitted development processes can have very negative implications for existing and future residents.

There is a need for greater clarity on Section 106 & CIL regulations to cut delays in the planning system

21. There is growing concern from a number of bodies in the housing sector about the way in which planning obligations are being assessed. While we believe that in principle, a dispute resolution mechanism could potentially speed up decisions, there is also the potential for it to discourage local authorities or developers from entering into negotiations in the hope of receiving a more favourable outcome from the arbitration process. We believe that greater transparency around the entire viability assessment and enforcement process – from the more open scrutiny of viability assessments to the devolution of power to local authorities to set clearer guidelines around Section 106 and CIL levies – would be a more sustainable and less resource draining approach.

22. Support for an increase in self and custom build homes is very welcome

The RIBA strongly supports moves to increase the opportunities for the construction of self and custom build homes. The sector already accounts for about 1 in 10 new homes in the UK, with further support we believe this can significantly increase.

23. Greater clarity on the processes to be followed when local plans are imposed for non-adoption of a plan is needed?

Local and neighbourhood plans have to date delivered very mixed results. While we are supportive of efforts to drive adoption of local plans by 2017, we are concerned that there is a danger that moves to impose local plans could undermine the strengths of a locally developed model. We hope that during the course of the Parliamentary process the Government will be able to provide more details about how they plan to speed up adoption of high-quality local plans and address areas where the process has been much slower to date.

24. Recommendation:

As outlined in Paragraph 13, RIBA proposes the following amendment to the Bill:

New Clause after 106

Minimum space standards for new dwellings

(1) In Schedule 1 Part M of the Building Regulations 2010, after subsection M4 insert-

Internal Space Standards

(M5) New dwellings should meet the minimum standards for internal space set out in the Nationally Described Space Standard, 2015

Explanatory statement

This New Clause would incorporate the National Described Space Standard into building regulations to ensure all new dwellings are built to meet these requirements.

December 2015

Prepared 10th December 2015