Originally posted on July 13 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
It may have important new provisions on housing and planning but the name of the government’s new productivity strategy rather gives the game away.
Described as ‘the second half of the Budget’, Fixing the Foundations was published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills but includes chapters on housing and planning and welfare that amplify decisions taken in the first half.
But does the name remind you of anything? Go back four years and David Cameron himself was launching a ‘radical and unashamedly ambitious’ housing strategy. The title? Laying the Foundations.
Once they’ve stopped sucking air through their teeth, any builder will tell you that once you’ve laid the foundations and built on top of them, it’s enormously expensive to start to fix them. It’s also a pretty good indication that the foundations were pretty rocky to begin with.
Ministers once promised that Britain would lead the world on zero carbon homes. Do we now just lead the world in hot air?
The 2016 target for all new homes to be zero carbon seemed genuinely revolutionary when Gordon Brown and housing minister Yvette Cooper first announced it in 2006. Questions about practicalities and costs were brushed aside as they argued that the target would spark the mass adoption of new technologies, drive down costs and even open up vast new export markets for British firms. As Cooper put it at the time:
‘In 10 years, all new homes should be built at a zero carbon rating. No other country has set that sort of timetable or ambition but I believe that we need to do it to drive the environmental technologies of the future and ensure that we are building the homes of the future.’
Eight years, and six housing ministers, later and today’s Queen’s Speech promises that ‘legislation will allow for the creation of an allowable solutions scheme to enable all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard’. So far, so good. The Liberal Democrats even reached back to the days of Brown and Cooper with their claim on Monday of ‘Britain to lead world on zero carbon homes’.
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Plans to ‘end rabbit hutch homes’ made all the headlines but the government’s consultation on housebuilding ‘red tape’ is about much more – and maybe not even that.
The housing standards review was launched in the wake of the government’s housing and construction red tape challenge, which itself was part of a wider drive to eliminate over-regulation in the economy.
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Twice before governments have attempted to force through improvements to the energy efficiency of existing homes and then backed down. Now the backlash is building again.
In both 2002 and 2006 the plan was to amend Part L of the Building Regulations so that home owners building an extension or a conservatory or replacing the windows or the boiler would also have to address the efficiency of the rest of the house. Both times vested interests and political cowardice killed the idea off.
Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.