How we can regulate housing to ensure that we meet the needs of everyone in society, and maintain a level of new house building?

Most people agree that we need more houses in the UK. And it’s important that those houses meet the standards that today’s society demands. In the last ten years the ageing population and environmental concerns have become paramount and we need to adjust regulation accordingly. But equally we just need more houses, and increasing regulation could get in the way of that. So the question is: how do we create a balance that ensures we are building homes that meet the needs of everyone in society while keeping up with demand? 

The question now is whether the government can create the right balance between accessibility demands and the demands of building lots of new houses.

Ten years ago I successfully advised the government to extend further building regulations to housing. The purpose was to ensure that a design of a building didn’t inadvertently create barriers to its use. The gains to society from extending the regulation far outweighed the costs. Since this time, the number of additional standards that different local planning authorities in the UK can apply to housebuilding has grown to over 100. This is not a sustainable situation for housebuilders. Without consistency it's very difficult to engineer homes efficiently and developers have increasingly found themselves grappling with lots of different requirements all over the country.

The Housing Standards Review (HSR), which reported back in March maintains that new regulation must stop local authorities imposing additional standards. However it also acknowledged the need for variation. As a result optional standards will be introduced to encourage housing design that works throughout someone's lifetime - adapting to changing needs, accommodating the use of wheelchairs etc.

It’s essential that the new standards strike the right balance.

The question now is whether the government can create the right balance between accessibility demands and the demands of building lots of new houses. While the HSR report was published in March, we still do not have the details. We don’t know what the standards are, nor how and where the variations for more accessible properties will be enforced.

A couple of things could get in the way of striking this balance. Firstly the government is nervous of doing anything that causes developers to say they won't build new homes. Secondly, the '1 in 2 out' rule, one of the more arbitrary results of the drive to cut bureaucracy, means that the government can't introduce new a building regulation without getting rid of double the value/cost in existing regulations elsewhere.

The delay in releasing the new standards is frustrating and raises the possibility that the government is either feeling the pressure from housebuilders or that it is getting tangled up in its' own bureaucracy.  It’s essential that the new standards strike the right balance, so that we can continue the advances made in housing accessibility design, while still building enough houses for our growing population. We wait with baited breath.

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