“Developers Have Used A Legal Loophole To Dodge Building 10,000 Affordable Homes”

“Developers have dodged providing more than 10,000 affordable homes due to the government’s failure to close a loophole in the law, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Using ‘permitted development rights’, builders have sidestepped their duty to provide affordable homes when they convert non-residential buildings like office blocks.

The rules were designed to speed up the planning process, as they allow developers to transform a property without having to apply for town halls’ planning permission – something which could see council chiefs demand social housing as part of planning conditions.

Housing charity Shelter handed an analysis to HuffPost which shows that 10,340 affordable homes have been lost over the last three years in England as a result.

Polly Neate, chief executive, said: “With hundreds of thousands of people homeless today, it’s obvious that we need as many social homes as we can get. But despite this, the government is now considering new plans that could supercharge a social housing get out clause for developers.

“Developers shouldn’t have a license to dodge social housing when so many are without a home they can afford. Instead of creating a social housing black hole, the government should halt these plans and bring down the cost of land to build the social homes we need.”

The government says the rules simplify the planning process, but for every 10 homes built using the conversion rules, three affordable homes have been lost.

As the housing crisis deepens, ministers are now considering a new plan which could allow developers to further exploit the rules.

Using the same legal mechanism, developers may be able to demolish and replace commercial buildings.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey said the government must act.

“We can’t make housing more affordable if we don’t build more affordable homes, but Conservative ministers are letting developers cash in without making any contribution to the community,” he said.

We can’t make housing more affordable if we don’t build more affordable homes Labour shadow housing minister, John Healey
“These changes have given developers a free hand to dodge their duty to build homes that are affordable to local people.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government underlined that more than 32,000 homes had been provided using permitted development rights.

“We’re committed to speeding up the planning system to help deliver the homes the country needs,” she said.

“By introducing additional permitted development rules we’re providing flexibility, reducing bureaucracy and making the most effective use of existing buildings.

“Our £9bn affordable homes programme is set to deliver 250,000 affordable homes by March 2022 and we’re scrapping councils’ borrowing caps, setting them free to build a new generation of council housing.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/exclusive-legal-loophole-let-developers-dodge-building-10000-affordable-homes_uk_5c0a5b6ee4b0de79357bc719

“New homes ‘crumbling due to weak mortar’ : affected householders gagged about repairs

“Hundreds of new properties have been built using weak mortar that does not meet recommended industry standards, the Victoria Derbyshire show has found.

There are reports of homes with the fault on at least 13 estates in the UK.
The full extent of the industry-wide problem is hard to measure as some homeowners have been asked to sign gagging orders to claim compensation.

The industry says mortar performance is a complex issue and can be affected by a number of factors.

One of those homes was owned by Vincent Fascione, 70. He says he was watching football on TV one evening in 2016 when he heard a loud cracking noise from the external walls of his house.

The next morning, he found a sand-like substance all over his front path and driveway. Photographs and video from the time appear to show growing cracks in the mortar holding his bricks together.

Mr Fascione, from Coatbridge outside Glasgow, bought his semi-detached property in 2012 for £112,500.

He complained to the homebuilder, Taylor Wimpey, and to the NHBC, the industry body that signs off and provides the warranty for most new-build houses.

‘Disastrous’

Under NHBC guidelines, mortar in most areas of the UK should be made of one part cement to 5.5 parts sand.

In severe weather areas such as Coatbridge, there should be even more cement in the mix to make it stronger and more durable.

Laboratory tests on samples taken from parts of Mr Fascione’s home showed the amount of sand was almost three times higher than recommended.

“I’m the guy who retired and decided to buy a new-build house,” he said. “I’ll never buy a new-build house again – never. It’s just been disastrous for me.”

After 18 months of complaints, the NHBC bought back Mr Fascione’s home at the market rate and he is living in alternative accommodation.

The organisation said it had done so because the performance of the company it had employed to repair the property had not been good enough and “in consideration of Mr Fascione’s personal circumstances”, not because of the original issue with the mortar.

‘Widespread and serious’

The Victoria Derbyshire Programme has heard about new build properties in at least 13 estates from Scotland to Sussex, built by different companies, with what appears to be a similar problem.

In one single estate in the Scottish borders, it is thought Taylor Wimpey has agreed to replace the mortar in more than 90 separate properties. The homebuilder says an assessment by engineers found “no structural issues” with the homes.

“This is both widespread and serious,” says Phil Waller, a retired construction manager who has blogged about the problem.

“It cannot be explained away by the industry as a few isolated cases.”

Exactly why the weaker building material may have been used is unclear.
In some cases, the housebuilder may have simply used the wrong type of mortar. In other cases, errors may have been made mixing and laying the material on site.

Some construction experts also blame the switch to a new type of factory-mixed mortar, which might pass a different strength test in the laboratory but not always be strong enough in the real world.

Non-disclosure agreements

Faced with what could be an expensive repair bill, many homeowners have been told by their own solicitors not to go public until the issue is resolved.
In some cases, customers have ultimately had their houses bought back by either the homebuilder or the NHBC.

In others, it appears repairs have been made and compensation paid as part of a deal that involves the signing of a non-disclosure agreement or gagging clause.

One homeowner in the north-west of England told the programme: “The only comment I can make is no comment. I’d like to speak out but at the end of the day I have to protect my investment.”

A gagging clause may stop the property owner talking not only to the media but also to neighbours in the estate who may be facing similar problems.

“It’s going on, it’s just not being talked about,” says Mr Waller.
“Non-disclosure agreements should be banned full stop. If it’s all covered up, more victims are likely to be drawn into the net and make the same mistakes.”

An NHBC spokesman said it included a confidentiality clause in a “small number of rare circumstances” but declined to disclose the number.
He added: “We work with builders to help them improve the construction quality of the homes they build. However, it is the builder who is ultimately responsible for the quality of the new homes they build.”
Taylor Wimpey apologised to Mr Fascione for the issues experienced with his home.

A spokesman said: “We are committed to delivering excellent quality homes and achieving high levels of customer satisfaction. On those occasions where issues do arise, we endeavour to resolve those issues as soon as practically possible.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46454844

University accommodation providers screwing students

“… Our investigation found that the cost of the cheapest halls at Russell Group universities jumped by an average of 41% between 2008 and 2018, despite maintenance loans rising by as little as 13%. Freedom of Information requests revealed that some of the UK’s brightest students are being priced out of university accommodation all together.”

Source: Waugh Zone, Huffington Post

Raynsford Report on planning: hot on problems, cold on solutions!

Executive summary here:
https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx

Honestly, Owl can barely raise a talon. Nothing new, so let’s just stick with this paragraph:

” …The defining challenge for the future of planning is not to be found in any technical fix, but in the degree to which there is consensus in favour of an effective and democratic system to manage the future development of our communities and our nation.

The institutional and technical changes are possible and achievable.

The question is whether we have the will and foresight to secure the health and wellbeing of all our communities now and for the future …”

… rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb….

Yeah, right, ok …. zzzzzzzzzzzz.

“Developers to be forced to plant more trees amid fears barren developments are being constructed by builders”

Developer definition of trees – two trees which residents have to pay high maintenance charges on
Developer definition of open space – pocket handkerchief, which belongs to them but which residents have to pay for high upkeep costs

“Developers will be forced to demonstrate to planners that they are improving wildlife habitats whenever they build new homes, Michael Gove will say on Sunday.

Under plans that will go out for consultation next week, builders will be required to deliver a ‘biodiversity net gain’ when building new housing or commercial development.

This means that wildlife habitats must be enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were before development started.

It could also see developers planting more green spaces around new developments. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/12/02/developers-forced-plant-trees-amid-fears-barren-developments/

Construction groups in trouble as banks tighten lending

“Shares in the construction firm Kier, which is working on major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Crossrail, have plunged by a third after it announced an emergency plan to raise £264m to cut its debt pile.

The company’s chief executive, Haydn Mursell, said it had been forced to act because banks had performed a “180-degree turn” since the failure of Carillion and were planning to reduce or stop lending to the construction sector.

Mursell warned that other construction companies could be caught out by the sudden credit freeze unless they also took action to strengthen their balance sheets.

Kier, which employs more than 16,000 people and took on Carillion’s share in HS2 and smart motorways upon its collapse, stunned the markets by warning that the risk posed by its £624m debt had increased, forcing it to raise money.

It would go to shareholders for the cash but has secured promises from a group of financial institutions including Santander, HSBC and Citigroup to buy shares if investors did not want them.

Its shares dived by 32.5% to 508p, cutting its stock market value by £329m to £492m.

Kier, in a statement to the stock market, said its debt position had become more risky amid greater reluctance among financial institutions to lend to the construction sector.

“Nothing has changed in our business, but everything has changed in our credit markets during the month of October,” said Mursell. “A lot of our banks were affected by Carillion and for a few months they were reeling from that. Over the summer they talked about wanting reduction.”

He said the banks’ loss of appetite for lending had accelerated recently to the point where they had taken a “180-degree turn” compared with last year, when Kier was able to extend lending facilities.

Mursell added that suppliers were already keeping a close eye on construction companies’ finances and seeking earlier payment where possible, putting further pressure on balance sheets. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/30/kier-construction-shares-lose-30-on-plan-to-raise-cash

A parish councillor says planning system is broken

Guardian letters:

“The planning system is broken. At the London launch this week of Nick Raynsford’s Review of Planning in England, speakers described demoralised councillors and planners; frustration over constant changes of policy; and anger that the system is not delivering what people want. Parish councils are at the sharp end of this failure to reform the system. Communities here in Kent and across Britain are facing the threat of opportunistic, unplanned development. Landowners and developers are exploiting the fact that it takes time to prepare, consult on and get approval for a new local plan, to bring forward applications for housing development on unsuitable sites.

Additionally, where a local authority does not have a five-year “housing supply” (an arbitrary figure and a rather nebulous concept as the number of houses in the pipeline fluctuates continually), the new national planning policy framework (NPPF) dictates that councils must grant permission, unless there are overriding reasons to refuse. A developer-led planning process, crude housing targets, no joined-up regional thinking, and flawed “consultation” has resulted in communities being pitted against each other as they try to protect the environment and their health.

The Raynsford review makes 24 recommendations to create a simpler, fairer system. These include strategic regional planning, a (limited) community right to challenge in an attempt to redress the balance of power, and a duty on local authorities to plan for high-quality and genuinely affordable homes. I hope the government will listen carefully to the arguments for reform. Change is desperately needed.
Richard Byatt
Chair, planning committee, West Malling parish council, Kent”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/30/our-broken-housing-market-urgently-needs-fixing