Reaction roundup to the Queen’s Speech 2014

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) is pleased that the Government continues to recognise the value of small business and construction to the economy in the measures outlined in the 2014 Queen’s Speech.

The NFB particularly welcomes measures outlined to exempt small housing developments from some zero carbon homes requirements. The NFB and its division the House Builders Association (HBA) have previously called for the Government to slow the implementation of these measures to avoid a deluge of rising costs that would have threatened SME-led growth in the housebuilding sector.

Small house builders built two-thirds of all new homes in 1988, but latest figures show that this has fallen to less than one fifth. A new generation of garden cities and new towns would help boost the contribution that SMEs make in addressing the housing shortage. Reforms to how public land is managed and sold through the Homes and Communities Agency should help support this development in the future.

James Hulme, strategic policy adviser at the HBA, said:

“It is good to see the Government recognising the cumulative burden of regulation that small house builders face by scrapping the rapid roll out of zero carbon homes requirements. It is now up to the government to ensure a smooth transition to zero carbon homes and allowable solutions to ensure that smaller builders do not bear the brunt of regulatory costs.”

Hulme went on to say:

“The fact that the Government has recognised the need for a vision of a new generation of garden cities and new towns will help provide a long-term framework for development. It is now time for government and industry to work together to make the case for long-term investment in the housebuilding and development sector ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to support new communities.”

The NFB is also pleased to hear of fresh moves in the Government’s legislative programme to tackle late payment. The measures outlined should complement the construction industry’s supply chain charter and will help ensure that companies in the supply chain do not take on disproportionate levels of risk when doing business.

In welcoming the measures outlined in the Government’s legislative programme, Paul Senior, NFB national chair said:

“It is a relief that in its final parliament session, the Government is recognising the importance of not only reducing over burdensome regulation for small businesses but also tackling long held assumptions on payment terms. SME construction companies are well placed to build the homes, schools and hospitals of the future but the issues of regulation and cost of doing business must continue to be addressed.”

Senior continued:

“As we approach the 2015 general election, it is my hope that all the major political parties will continue to take positive steps, like those outlined today, to support growth in the construction industry. It is my belief that SMEs are the key to the construction industry’s future and must not be held back from helping to shape the built environment and driving economic growth for generations to come.”

Mat Lown, Partner and Head of Sustainability at property and construction consultancy, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, said:

“The introduction of zero carbon homes is an important step towards the delivery of very energy efficient homes, meeting carbon emission targets and improving the affordability of heating. Delivering zero carbon homes presents an opportunity for house builders to demonstrate leadership and to differentiate themselves within the marketplace.

“However, the introduction of Allowable Solutions could be a positive step as long as the associated funds are used in a meaningful and transparent way. It is estimated that approximately 80% of the buildings around today will still be standing in 2050, and with DECC estimating that 70% of the energy consumed in our homes is used for space heating, improving the energy efficiency of our existing stock is key if we are to meet our long-term carbon reduction target (of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050; under the Climate Change Act 2008). This is an area where Allowable Solutions could help – by funding fabric improvements at scale and to help bolster current efforts to tackle this challenge (such as those under the Green Deal). Insulating our homes is also a critically important to help reduce the cost of heating and improve our fuel security by reducing our reliance on unpredictable imported gas.”

“Exempting small housing developments from Allowable Solutions should only be seen as a short-term measure as ultimately provisions must be put in place to meet the requirements under EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010 that all buildings be nearly zero-energy by 2020. It is also essential that Government provides a clear definition of what constitutes a small housing site.”

Neelum Mohammed, Senior Sustainability Consultant, Building Consultancy & Planning at CBRE commented,

“The 2007 commitment to zero carbon homes was the driver needed to encourage the housing industry to be accountable for housing standards and build quality, in the past 7 years we have seen significant improvements to that effect. With two thirds of housing that will be around in 2050 already built, there is a need to focus on the remaining third to be built.

“To meet housing demand and the ultimate carbon reduction target, 80% reduction by 2050, the industry needs to maintain focus on providing quality housing without limiting development, which the zero carbon commitment is perceived to be doing in the last few years. Therefore the proposal for Allowable Solutions to consent housing developers to offset any residual carbon reduction not being attained through the built environment via energy efficiency scheme contributions is a solution that should be welcomed. However the option to offset carbon should not permit developers to then back track from building quality energy efficient housing. To maintain quality and guarantee success the government and local authorities have to regulate and monitor all proposals, verifying the built environment carbon reduction and any subsequent carbon offsetting before and after construction. Transparency is also essential to see who and where the carbon offset contributions are made and in turn what schemes the contributions are put towards.”

Graeme Murray, Associate Director, Building Consultancy – Engineering Services at CBRE commented,

“This shouldn’t be seen as a get out of jail free card for developers. Any regulation needs to ensure all new builds are as efficient as possible and only using allowable solutions for the residual element.

“Building sub-standard dwellings and then giving the Government money is not going to deliver benefits with regards to reducing carbon emissions.”

Responding to the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that developers will be able to offset carbon reductions rather than having to meet stringent targets, sustainability director at consultancy WSP David Bownass said:

“This solution is great for the house builder, but less so for the end customer, the homeowner, who won’t benefit from the reduced energy bills if the carbon is offset off-site.

“Given that existing buildings are where there is the biggest potential to save carbon, if we restricted the Allowable Solutions to a simple buy out mechanism we could use the money collected to make all Green Deal loans 0% interest, addressing a key limitation in the Green Deal offer as well as directly benefiting the general public.”

Welcoming the Infrastructure Bill, head of infrastructure at WSP Duncan Symonds said:

“The transformation of the Highways Agency into a government owned company is a welcome step forward for the organisation and its people, the industry and the customers of the strategic network. The cardinal rule is I before E: infrastructure before expansion. The fact the bill is being led by Department for Transport demonstrates that the government understands the importance of transport infrastructure as a key enabler for economic expansion.

“There is great potential for the roads sector to be the enabler, and WSP believes the new Highways Agency will realise the long held ambitions for a sustainable delivery model that unlocks this potential.

He added:

“What will be crucial now is getting that all important cross party support for the Bill, especially as we enter the pre-election period. Industry needs to play it’s part by keeping up the momentum so that infrastructure remains a key political plank up until and beyond the election.”

Commenting on the infrastructure bill outlined in the Queen’s speech, Andrew Halstead-Smith, Group Marketing Manager at Ibstock Brick, says:

“The Government’s commitment to a new housing drive is obviously a real positive for the construction industry, particularly for brickmakers such as Ibstock, as brick is still the building material of choice. However, while the announcement that planning applications would be relaxed under the new bill to ensure quicker development of new housing is undoubtedly good for the industry, it’s important not to lose sight of the importance of the aesthetics of a building. This should still be a key consideration in any new development and is where brick has a real role to play – as a local product, it can be used to ensure new builds complement the local vernacular and housing styles of a particular region.

“In addition, although government has announced that small housing developments will be exempt from the 2016 zero-carbon housing target, sustainability should still be at the forefront of any development. Again, brick can play a key role. Regardless of whether a building is exempt from carbon requirements, brick’s proven sustainability – as demonstrated by being the first construction industry product to gain verification under BRE Global’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) scheme – as well as its naturally low maintenance properties and long life, means it can be used to bolster the environmental status of any build, whilst providing a long-term, natural aesthetic.”