RIBA responds to Government’s Housing White Paper

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has responded to the UK Government’s Housing White Paper published 7th February 2017. Speaking today, RIBA President Elect Ben Derbyshire said:

“I welcome the recognition given to good design and many of the practical and realistic commitments set out by the government in today’s Housing White Paper. I’m pleased to see more focus on rented housing and that regional and local government are given more prominence, although the government has chosen not to give local authorities additional borrowing capacity, which would have allowed them to borrow to build.

Whilst I commend the Government for requiring increased openness from developers, it’s disappointing that they have not taken more ambitious action to increase transparency in the housing market. The lack of public viability assessments is a notable gap, leaving a situation where decisions on obligations to build schools and GP surgeries or provide affordable and social housing are taken behind closed doors.

For at least three decades, governments of all parties have failed to make the big decisions needed to properly tackle the housing crisis. This government must make the necessary step-change and recognise in actions, as well as words, the importance of well-designed homes for garnering community support and ensuring the houses we build today are affordable, sustainable and suitable for future generations.”

On support for the promotion of good design

“I am pleased that the Government has recognised the value of good design in winning local support for new developments. The proposed use of area-wide design codes is a proposal the RIBA has long supported. Areas which have already developed and adopted design codes are amongst the most successful at building new homes. We hope that more parts of the country will take up this mechanism and work with architects, planners and other experts to draw up proposals which reflect local priorities.

On proposals to require local authorities to release more land for housing

“We know that a significant proportion of local authorities currently don’t meet the requirement to identify a five year housing land supply and that this is often due to concerns about local opposition. Simply introducing a new requirement won’t necessarily lead to homes being built unless we can win the battle for hearts and minds with existing local residents. Good design is going to be crucial to  this.”

On proposals to tackle land banking

“The shortage of developable sites available to buy for new entrants to the markets remains one of the biggest barriers to development. It hits small developers particularly hard and is pushing the price of land up to stratospheric levels. If the government finds evidence that developers are deliberately stockpiling land or delaying build out rates then we hope this will be taken seriously.”

On proposals to promote building at higher densities

“Building at higher densities around transport hubs is already happening and represents a common sense approach to development. Given the drawbacks that being next to transport infrastructure can bring, it’s vital that new homes in these areas are well designed. The use of design review should be mandated.”

On the announcement of further protection for the green belt

“The RIBA is strongly supportive of a focus on developing brownfield land. However, in many areas we need to recognise that such land is in very short supply. In light of the overwhelming interest, it is a shame that the Government hasn’t taken the opportunity to look at the future role of the green belt in more detail. The ability of local councils to open up land for development in exceptional circumstances is welcome, however we need to look at what can be done to promote a more long-term approach to the use of land which sees closer links between new infrastructure and housing projects.”

On the proposal to review the Nationally Described Space Standard

“The space standard, which has only been in force since October 2015, was introduced following years of work and analysis by those across the housing sector, against a backdrop of public concern that many new-build homes were too small. Over 80% of those asked agreed that a national space standard was needed.

“Where the standard has been implemented, we have seen the trend for smaller homes reverse, bedrooms increase to usable size and greatly improved storage provision. Removing or weakening the standard at this time would disrupt the industry as a whole, including the housebuilders who have spent a great deal of time gearing up for it, and the local authorities who have been through costly Local Plan revisions to implement it.

“While I understand that the Government wants to help those struggling to get on the housing ladder, we have seen a number examples already of some developers proposing tiny two-person homes of less than 15 square metres in converted office buildings. This cannot be a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

“Balancing affordability, quality design and adequate space is vital to fixing the housing crisis. A race to the bottom will not help achieve this and must be avoided. We look forward to contributing to the review.”