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RICS say the housing market is on the up

March 8th, 2010 Comments off

affordablehousingThe UK housing market is improving more quickly than that of most other European countries, the latest European Housing Review from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) suggested.

According to the report, which was launched 2nd March in Brussels, Britain was one of only a few countries that saw signs of recovery in the property sector last year – along with Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Norway experienced the biggest rise in prices on the continent in 2009 – by 12 per cent.

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist, commented: “A combination of extraordinarily low interest rates and a raft of government measures have helped to put a floor under residential property markets in most European countries.”

However, he explained that many countries’ housing markets are still “continuing to labour”.

RICS was formed in 1868 and today boasts more than 100,000 qualified members and 50,000 students and trainees around the world.

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The row over housing design

January 25th, 2010 Comments off

houseAn almighty row has erupted between housebuilders and the government’s design watchdog over the quality of housing design in this country

The government’s £1.1bn housebuilding rescue package has kickstarted more than just an ailing industry. Over the past couple of weeks, a row has been reignited over the design quality of the UK’s housing, with the spark provided by the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA’s) decision to fund poorly designed homes through the Kickstart programme.

Mostly, the furore has taken place on a very public level. Politicians on both sides of the House of Commons have branded the HCA’s decision to fund “grotty” private homes unacceptable and inexcusable, and the communities department’s cross-party select committee has already pledged to look into it.

Behind the public outrage, however, lies a longer stand-off between the nation’s housebuilders and Cabe, the government’s design watchdog. Cabe has consistently raised questions about the standard of housing design in the UK, its damning assessment of the Kickstart homes being just the latest in a series of stark verdicts. However, this in itself begs the question: why, 10 years after the Urban Task Force and the formation of Cabe, has the quality of housing design still not improved?

Although the HCA is still questioning the validity of that question by suggesting that Cabe’s Kickstart verdict was too harsh, it is clear that at least some the schemes were very badly designed indeed. The assessors have been asked not to speak publicly about the process, given the political sensitivity of the matter, but one says: “The schemes I saw were appalling – I gave one 1.5 [out of 20 on the government’s Building for Life criteria]. It seems absurd to commission research and then ignore it. It’s such a risk for those communities.”

Documents obtained by Building under the Freedom of Information Act show that the HCA felt Cabe’s “desktop review” of schemes had marked a number of them lower than they should have been, because Cabe simply gave a score of zero if information was not supplied. The HCA subsequently marked a number of them more highly.

Why were they so bad?

But this does not explain why some schemes scored as low as one or two on the criteria. The assessor says: “Whether there were any limitations to the Cabe assessment, a 1.5 scheme is never going to be any good.”

All of the schemes assessed under the first phase of Kickstart were standard housing schemes, albeit not originally intended for public funding, but all had received planning permission. Why were so many of them so bad? For architect Alex Ely, founder of Mae Architects and a former Cabe employee, design quality comes down to the desire of the client to see good design, a desire that is patchy at best. “Some of our clients have realised that design is a way for them to capture more market share in the recession, but even where there is this desire development directors at housebuilders have a lot of trouble with their cost evaluators.”

At a more essential level, Cabe sees a problem with the housebuilders’ business model in terms of design – they primarily compete on location and price with other builders, with big incentives to drive down costs, one of which is the design process. They also have no stake in the long-term success of a place, just the initial sale price. Ben Derbyshire, founder of architect HTA says: “They’re land traders, and this model doesn’t require product differentiation.”

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FMB say Tory housing plans are an “act of faith”

October 29th, 2009 Comments off
Housing Plans

Housing Plans

Conservative plans to increase the number of new homes whilst simultaneously giving local people more say as to where and if these homes are to be built are an act of faith, the Federation of Master Builders has warned.

Conservative Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps announced the plans yesterday.

FMB director of external affairs Brian Berry said: “It is very encouraging that the Conservative Party acknowledges the need to build more homes and has come out as pro-development.

“But whether its proposed financial incentives to match pound for pound the Council Tax revenue on all new homes for a six year period will be sufficient to persuade local authorities of the need to build new homes in their area remains to be seen.”

He added: “There is the danger that the Conservative proposals in attempting to please everyone will end up pleasing no one.

“The simple fact is that this country needs more homes to tackle the current housing crisis and these homes need to be built somewhere. Giving more power to local communities to decide on housing policy may sound good but in practice may mean that in certain parts of the country fewer and not more homes will be built.”

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Councils invited to bid for 1,200 homes cash

September 29th, 2009 Comments off

Housing minister announces plans to create 3,000 more apprentices as council home funding is released

Housing minister John Healey has invited councils to bid for funding to build 1,200 council homes.

Addressing the Labour conference in Brighton, Healey said he was inviting bids by the end of next month, and hoped to give the go-ahead for successful schemes before the end of the year.

He also confirmed plans previously announced to make the use of apprentices a condition of public funding for any housebuilding, whether by developers, councils or housing associations. Healey said the move would see the creation of 3,000 more construction apprentices over the next two years.

Healey said: “We believe we have a duty to help when people are struggling. we believe in using the power of government to protect the poorest and disciplned in the market. We believe in the progressive power of public investment.”

He added: “If the Tories had their way, there would be no special help on mortgages, no extra jobs and apprenticeships, no boost for building affordable homes.”

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