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Spotlight on Housing!

Martin Valentine is the Managing Director of Nottingham-based Positive Homes Ltd – aiming to build 500 super-low energy homes over the next five years. More at www.positivehomes.co.uk

Positive Homes is what all Governments say they want more of: an SME developer wanting to innovate and grow, by building extremely low energy homes.  There’s a raft of measures out there – money from the Homes and Communities Agency, support from D2N2, councils and public bodies with land to sell, and political parties tackling the ‘housing crisis’ by promising ever higher numbers of new homes.  But councils are forced to sell to the highest bidder, and finance is still hard to come by. The planning system – despite some reforms of late – is overwhelmed and cumbersome.

Meanwhile, since the Brexit vote, we’ve seen material prices rises well into double figures – while lead times for items like roof tiles have lengthened from a few weeks to around five months.

So what would be our asks of the new Government?

  1. Ditch the targets: Promising X houses a year, when so many factors are beyond your control, is silly. Worse, it just makes people cynical about politics
  2. Change the public land rules: The easiest way to encourage smaller developers is to allow councils to do deals with them for less than market value – the wider benefits to the local economy should be recognised properly
  3. Raise standards: The ‘big six’ have zero interest in innovating or investing in energy efficiency. Government can easily change this – by reinstating the National Zero Carbon Homes standard – and councils can make stronger use of their existing planning powers
  4. Kill the red tape and invest: How much public land has actually been sold? How much went to small, local firms? Legal and property teams have been cut back, and they’re overwhelmed. Investing here pays off, because without developments can’t happen
  5. Reward enterprise and innovation: Reduced council tax for highly energy efficient homes? Half price planning fees? Fining the big developers for building more of the same – with the money channelled into supporting energy efficient homes?

Not easy, but far from impossible!