Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has made a number of announcements whilst speaking at the Federation of Master Builders Conference on the 11th December:
Firstly, a National Housing Design Conference: a conference and exhibition “aimed to boost the design quality of new homes in England” to be hosted in Spring 2018. This seems to be a cross tenure initiative and not the first. There is no doubt that in any examination of quality space standards are bound to feature. With the UK building some of Europe’s smallest homes:
There will be a renewed focus on space. The Nationally Described Space Standards are universal in not being adopted. Unless or until space standards are applied cross tenure there will continue to be resistance from all sectors to their adoption. But quality is about more than space and current concerns regarding build quality and our ability to bring people into construction are placing increasing emphasis on off-site solutions such as those offered by the Re:Allies consortium. The third contributory factor has to be place. Whilst we think that the quality of housing design has improved significantly since the 1980’s there are too many schemes which contribute too little to their community or place.
The Minister suggested that as “set out in the White Paper earlier this year the government wants to give communities a voice in the design and quality of new homes, this event for industry and local councils will be a showcase for design ideas, insights and best practice not only from the UK but worldwide”. So, the Minister has set out big expectations and we welcome the thrust of this initiative and look forward to understanding the detail of the event.
New Housing Ombudsman – At the same time Javid has announced the launch of a consultation into a new housing ombudsman with responsibility for both social and private landlords. There has been concern expressed regarding the housing and management standards applied in the private sector and regarding the degree of fragmentation as buy to let increases. Last year’s changes to stamp duty slowed the market but it did not stall. In recent discussion we have had with Midlands estate agents they report increased activity from the buy to let market.
The changes to charging by letting agents was announced as only part of a step change in improving tenants experience, the Ombudsman appears to be the next step in this drive.
But it is not only private landlords in the Governments sights. Clearly, the Grenfell Tower tragedy places a spotlight on the management practices and housing standards of the social housing sector. The government are clearly stating that they are listening, and Alok Sharma’s tour proves that they are willing to hear the tenants voice. What they hear and how this is interpreted into a new single cross sector Ombudsman we will have to find out in 2018.