Neil Parish is MP for Tiverton and Honiton, and chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
Britain needs more homes. Rising house prices have made building more houses a social and economic imperative. So it’s vital we get the design and quality of these new homes right.
That’s why I was so pleased to see the 2017 Conservative manifesto commitment to:
“build better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations. That means supporting high-quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.”
This pledge really stood out for me, and I look forward to leading a Parliamentary debate on this topic today. As someone who used to work in planning at local authority level, I know just how terrified some communities are of new development. This isn’t because they are NIMBYs. But because they have seen how previous developments in the in the last 50 years have left communities with homes totally unsuitable for their area.
This is backed by hard evidence. Survey after survey shows the British public are dissatisfied with the design and build quality of new homes. A whopping 81 per cent are unenthused about living in new-build housing developments. Older properties in traditional streetscapes emerged as far more popular.
We will never build the necessary support for new homes when people fear new housing designs. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The latest research for DCLG shows over half of households would be less opposed to new housebuilding if they had more say over the design and layout of developments. A separate poll for IPSOS MORI, commissioned by the fantastic campaigning organisation, Create Streets, shows designs in traditional form and style commanded 75 per cent support from local people – far higher than less traditional development styles. The message is clear. People want and are happy to accept new housing in the right designs.
We can’t go back to the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s. Where ugly, modernist designs were imposed on communities, it damaged trust in new housing for a generation. So how do we break this pattern and design the sorts of homes the public actually want?
I believe the key is strong community engagement. The tools are already there in the form of Neighbourhood Plans and Design Codes. A Design Code is a set of drawn design rules which instruct and advise on the physical development of an area. Used well, they create certainty about what should be built.
The Government should actively encourage local people to create their own neighbourhood plans with their own Design Codes. This can be expensive, so the Government should provide resources for local people to form their own codes. This would have two main benefits. Firstly, it would boost the quality of our housing stock. Second, it helps gives local communities a stake and a sense of civic pride in new developments.
In the debate, I will also be calling for the creation of a New Homes Ombudsman. This is not a new idea – indeed, it was the No.1 recommendation from the APPG for the Built Environment’s report on the Quality of New Build Housing last year.
The concept is simple – a new Ombudsman focussing on complaints with new build homes. It would give new home-buyers redress for any dispute with house builders or warranty providers. Shockingly, an overwhelming 98 per cent of new home buyers report snags or defects to the builder after moving in. Over four in ten report more than ten faults. And most frustratingly of all, it’s a problem that is getting worse. Since 2012, the number of respondents satisfied with the condition of their new build home has fallen by ten per cent.
We will never build popular support for new homes if the build-quality and design finish is going down year on year. If we make the mistake of erecting millions of poor quality homes in the next decade, the general public will not forgive or forget these errors.
A new Homes Ombudsman, with real teeth to enforce compensation, would provide a real wake-up call to house builders who cut corners. It would make developers sharpen up their act and build to the design standards they promised, pushing up the quality of new homes.
As this country is about to embark on a big housebuilding drive, we need to seize the opportunity and give people the sort of housing designs they want. Quality, popular designs, all supported by a powerful new homes ombudsman. We only have one chance to get this right.