Body set up to police UK housebuilding not representative, say critics

A new government-backed body set up to police the building industry faces claims that it lacks representation from architects, ordinary homeowners and BAME communities whose Covid-19 death rates have been linked to poor housing standards.

Ben Quinn 

Labour had claimed the New Home Quality Board [NHQB] lacked independence as it was chaired by a Tory MP and Conservative-linked developers sit on the board alongside her. On Friday it announced a new CEO and chair as it moved to what it described as its “full operational stage”.

The body has published a code of practice for the housebuilding industry and is working to oversee the creation of the New Homes Ombudsman Service, due to launch in the Summer, with the stated aim of providing “robust independent redress” for new-build buyers who have “issues with their new home or developer”.

However, the NHQB was criticised by Ben Derbyshire, a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who questioned what he described as an “inexplicable absence of anyone with a design background or training on the board”.

“Design in British housing, especially speculative mass housing, is generally very poor. The exceptions to this represent the minority of housebuilding and renovation but these exceptions should become the rule. Good housing architects are notably absent from housebuilding and that is never going to change so long the profession is not represented on the New Homes Quality Board,” he said.

He expressed concern about the extent of representation of people from BAME communities on the board after the pandemic had showed up the correlation between poor housing standards, overcrowding, disadvantage and death from Covid among ethnic minorities.

Cym D’Souza, a chief executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association, an organisation specialising in the needs of Black and minority ethnic communities, said: “What I would question, is how this board would have any lived experience – apart from perhaps Gillian Cooper of Citizens Advice, of what it is like for the ‘ordinary’ person to go up against large developers when they are unhappy with their homes and ultimately how the framework supports the building of new quality homes in this respect?”

From April, the NHQB’s new CEO will be Leon Livermore who was formerly the chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) for eight years.

Rob Brighouse, an engineer and Network Rail board member, has been named as the replacement for Natalie Elphicke MP, who had come under the spotlight for having a second job earning £3,000 a month for spending around eight hours a week as chair of the board.

The HomeOwners Alliance – which has been particularly critical of the NHQB since it was launched in 2021 with support from the then housing minister, Robert Jenrick – said the new appointments were a step in the right direction.

“Although on balance the board looks fairly one-sided as there are already at least four industry appointments, such as Taylor Wimpey,” added Paula Higgins, the HOA’s CEO.

“What is missing from the board is the actual perspective of the buyers and owners of newly built properties. Who will be attending that has the ear of the consumer and who really understands the problems buyers face when buying and owning a new-build – from developers reneging on reservation agreements because of rising house prices, to poor quality after-care?”

A spokesperson for the NHQB said it was set up with the specific objective of ensuring the homebuyers’ experience improves, adding that it was committed to delivering this and consumers will have access to free, independent redress through a new ombudsman.

“The development of the code was subject to a full public consultation, and the appointment of the New Homes Ombudsman has been subject to full open procurement processes” they added.

“The new board appointments have been made following a publicly advertised and professionally managed recruitment process, and include a mix of representatives from consumer bodies, housebuilders, warranty providers, lenders and independents, which ensures it will not be dominated by any one group. The Board is fully committed to diversity and inclusion and it continues to be central to recruitment decisions.”