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Listening mode or tin ear?

Kennedynew4x3_head.jpgRoy Kennedy on the importance of ensuring housing policy delivers sustainable communities

Learning the lessons of the past for the future is one of the most important things you need to do in developing public policy. Nowhere is that more important now than when looking at how to deal with the UK’s housing crisis, where a failure to do so would certainly create new problems for the future. And all of this will again be foremost in Peers’ minds at today’s final day of Report on the Housing and Planning Bill.

Nearly every organisation involved with housing, from campaigners to builders want homes to be built that are fit for the challenges of the future. Important in this is ensuring that new homes meet the carbon compliance standard.

The additional costs are estimated at around £3,000 per property – passed onto the owner or tenants, who very quickly recover that money due to the lower energy bills, before then continuing to make savings. The alternative being higher energy bills which hit people on low incomes particularly hard; or expensive retrofits to bring properties up to standard at a later date, far in excess of the costs of doing so early on.

Rural areas are in all respects very different from urban communities. To thrive, they need homes of different tenures so that teachers, health workers, farm workers and those running the village shop, pub or other community facility can live locally to their jobs. With more and more rural homes being lost to urban dwellers who want a second home or somewhere to retire, local authorities in these areas need the power to require contributions from developers to increase the amount of social housing.

Such housing has fallen to just 8% in rural areas and if not addressed runs the risk of making some communities unviable, given the possible negative impact on local services. Many urban dwellers dream of retiring to a tranquil but equally vibrant and sustainable rural community. But for that to happen, we must ensure the right mix of people is available to do all the jobs required to make those communities viable.

The devastating impact of floods has all been too evident in recent years. When building homes for the future we must have paramount regard for the importance of flood resilience measures. Something that has been sadly lacking in the past.

Following the 2007 floods, Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendation included sustainable drainage. This led to the Flood and Waste Management Act, which allows for natural means such as swales and ponds to help ensure the sewer network is not overwhelmed during heavy rainfall. But the Conservatives have first delayed and then abandoned this approach on the basis that of a naive expectation that major planning applications will include sustainable drainage.

On each of the above issues, Labour Peers and others are trying to reinforce the need to plan and build for the future, having learned hard lessons from the past. I hope Ministers won’t display a tin ear when we debate them later today.

Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is Shadow Housing Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordRoyKennedy

Published 25th April 2016

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