In May 2021, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) published a new Housing Policy Position, calling for a radical, far-reaching national housing policy to be introduced. Paula Hewitt, the new president of ADEPT, explains why
In April 2021, the government announced a new target date to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 – the role of local authorities in achieving this new goal cannot be underestimated. In December 2020, together with a coalition of local government, environmental and research organisations, ADEPT published A Blueprint for Accelerating Climate Action and a Green Recovery at the Local Level, which argues that the fundamental role of local councils in tackling the climate and ecological crises must be recognised and supported nationally.
In July 2021, we published a follow-up document calling for urgent powers and resources for local authorities. Recognising Local Authorities as Key Partners in the Net Zero Strategy sets out how local authorities have developed plans and can rapidly scale up actions to meet climate targets, but only if they are supported by government.
The role local authorities play in housing
A critical element to this is the role local authorities play in housing and planning. ADEPT believes that a radical new housing policy is needed – one that is fit for purpose in a post-Covid environment, addressing climate change, health and inequality. Our Housing Policy Position sets out our priorities for this robust new housing strategy.
While we welcome the government’s commitment to a significant increase in housebuilding, the private sector cannot deliver this in isolation – local authorities have a critical role to play. For example, a strategic approach to planning new housing is needed, one that recognises the wider regional housing market rather than imposing rigid, national targets. Local authorities have the local expertise required to do this.
In addition, homes must be fit for purpose – a new national housing policy must not create volume at the expense of quality and we need to balance social, economic and environmental needs. It is essential that homes are fit for the future, ensuring new builds are zero carbon.
Currently, developers must fulfil the conditions outlined in their planning consent in relation to energy requirements. This means that many homes currently being built will not be zero carbon and will need to be retrofitted by the people that buy them. For example, many homes are still being built with gas central heating. We are keen for this issue to be addressed quickly, compelling developers to build homes that meet current guidelines, rather than relying on the guidelines given at the time of consent.
Encourage competition and diversity
There is currently planning consent for more than 1m new homes that have yet to be started: this is because big developers are able to hold on to land and control the build-out rate. We would like to see changes to planning policy that encourage more competition, allowing greater diversity of providers, helping to open the housing market to more young people.
The pandemic and the lockdowns highlighted how health and housing are inextricably linked and confirmed that access to green space is vital. Successive lockdowns have meant spending more time in our houses in close proximity to others, often with inadequate space and facilities. To address this, it is essential that local planning authorities are given the scope and tools to provide a housing landscape that is affordable, healthy and sustainable going forwards.
Well-designed housing is central to the reform of adult social care – people need and want to be able to stay in their homes for longer, to meet their changing needs over time. This means good quality housing is needed, which is designed to enable continued accessibility as people age.
Retrofitting existing homes
We also recognise that the housing challenge is not just about building new homes. We need to improve the energy efficiency of our existing houses, switching to low carbon heating methods – without this, we will not meet our commitment to meet the new target of reducing carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.
Retrofitting existing housing stock to a high standard is also therefore a huge part of this project. The PAS 2035 is a new retrofit standard, launched earlier this year, that is set to bring consistency and quality to retrofits.
Although the standard is based on sound principles, it is creating some perverse effects – significantly increasing the cost of retrofit measures and creating technical barriers to delivery in some archetypes. ADEPT wants to see a national working group rapidly established in partnership with local authorities, so that the consequences of implementing the policy are better understood and it can be amended to deliver its original policy intentions.
In order to succeed, councils need more reliable, longer-term funding streams. Currently, the grants available have very short deadlines, which presents capacity issues and surges in all parts of the supply chain, including the DNO. We need long-term investment, so we can plan resource properly and address skills gaps. Government needs to work with local authorities to fully understand the issues around this.
ADEPT hopes that a radical new housing policy will help to overcome the barriers to development of good quality and affordable housing. We believe that a robust and comprehensive housing policy will be a fundamental part of delivering the government’s strategies for clean growth, reducing carbon emissions, green recovery and levelling up.
Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT)
Tel: +44 (0)1579 352600