Speed should not sacrifice quality and sustainability

Speed should not sacrifice quality and sustainability

BLOG · BY TTF CEO DAVID HOPKINS · 18 May 2021

The Government is right to seek to improve housing supply, but this should not come at the expense of community well-being, carbon targets, or the reputation of the housing and construction sector itself.

Last week the Government launched the latest in a long line of policies designed to speed up housing delivery.

During the Queen’s Speech, the Government had the opportunity to put into practice all the talk of the past year about “Building Back Better” by placing sustainable construction and delivery at the heart of the next Parliaments plans. Judging by the reaction to the Government’s planning bill, based on the Planning for the Future whitepaper, they have decided against this!

Everyone agrees that we need to build far more houses in the country and make them affordable. Most people will also agree that the planning system in the UK could be improved. However, the proposed plans in the White Paper – which drastically reduce the role of local councils, local people, and democracy to shape the future of their own communities – are only likely to cause a backlash in the very communities where housing gets built. This does nothing to improve the reputation of the housing sector, nor the material supply chains which support it, including our own.

The proposal to rezone land and create a new infrastructure levy may bring more homes, but as opponents are saying, without checks and balances from local government it will be difficult to ensure the right homes are being built in the right place, that these homes are built to the right quality or sustainability levels, or that developments meet the actual needs of local areas.

After a pandemic year in which most people have realized that they DO want a better quality of life and a better community to live in and have spent their money on home improvements to achieve this – as testified by the current timber supply situation – this planning reform seems short sighted and tin-eared at best.

We cannot have another decade where we build inefficient houses using carbon-intensive materials, or developments devoid of local amenities, public transport and sense of community.

The Prime Minister had said that in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we would “build better and build greener but we will also build faster”. However, this bill seeks to tackle only one of these priorities, at the expense of the other two, with the Government seeming happy to let embodied carbon grow and buildings bypass local councils.

This is one more reason why it is so important to take the opportunities where they exist to communicate with Government as a sector about the positive impact we can make on construction – and why timber should be the first choice for low-carbon building and central to genuine low-carbon communities. This includes on the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry, with the call for evidence closing tomorrow.

The Government is right to seek to improve housing supply, which is key to economic output, reducing inequality and providing skilled opportunities across the country. But we need to make sure that this does not come at the expense of community well-being, carbon targets, or the reputation of the housing and construction sector itself.

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