By Simon Storer, Chief Executive of Insulation Manufacturers Association (IMA).
With the recent encouraging announcement of an interim New Homes Quality Board (NHQB) being welcomed and seen as the first step towards the creation of a New Homes Ombudsman (NHO) in 2021, will this be a much-needed panacea to our perennial housing quality problem or just another talking shop?
Chaired by MP Natalie Elphicke, the NHQB will comprise representatives from across consumer bodies, home builders, warranty providers, lenders and independents and will have responsibility for the quality of new-build homes and consumer redress. While it is hoped this new body will ensure the quality of new build-homes continues to improve, we must stress the need for openness and transparency in the quality and performance standards being set and for them to dovetail with the UK’s long-term 2050 climate change targets.
There must be honesty in assessing compliance with those standards and what they can, and will do, if houses do not meet the required standards. Quite simply, if a home fails to meet performance standards, then it should not pass. At this time, it remains unclear as to timescales for both the NHQB and the NHO and how a new and comprehensive ‘industry code of practice’ will work.
Failed to deliver
All too often, government and policy makers have talked a good talk but have failed to deliver when it comes to it, and years later we are left scratching our heads wondering why we are still facing the same old problems in terms of housing quality. I was recently sent an article I wrote in February 2009 about boosting the energy efficiency of housing stock and the essential first step being the low-tech approach of ensuring good roof and wall insulation. How disappointing to learn that 11 years later very little has changed when it comes to ensuring our homes are climate-ready.
Eleven years ago, we were constantly fed the message that global warming was the biggest threat to humankind that any of us was ever likely to experience. The government at the time had passed ground-breaking legislation through the climate change bill, setting the target of a 60% reduction from its 1990 levels by the year 2050. The message in 2020 is the same, but the UK target was revised to carbon neutrality by 2050. But in the intervening years very little has happened and the message is littered with broken promises about housing numbers and failed energy performance schemes, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes and the scrapped Zero Carbon Homes policy.
Unless a building is properly insulated it will never meet the energy performance standards necessary for the UK’s net zero carbon targets. Other aspects of the design and materials of a building also play a part in its overall performance and this must be recognised by the government in its latest initiative: Future Homes Standard, which will apply to all new homes from 2025.
Quality affects us all – whether we are a roofing contractor, a dryliner, a bricklayer or an electrician – we all have a role to play in delivering homes that are of a consistently high quality. A quality driven culture must in part be driven by the client/housebuilder/developer and fully supported by the trades.
Lessons from the past
As the pressure to address the UK’s housing crisis grows ever stronger, perhaps we can learn from the volume housebuilders of the Victorian era? They managed to build houses speculatively, and for profit, but at the same time these houses were built using high quality and durable materials. They also had a sense of style which is sorely absent in today’s new homes. We have the tools to make developers build densely and to a high standard, but in our rush to build more homes, surely they can be built to last, and to stand the test of time.
Housebuilders could perhaps take a leaf out of the book from the housing schemes from the Peabody Trust. Beautifully built and offering different solutions in different areas of the country, these schemes provide much needed affordable homes whilst at the same time creating strong communities. I believe there needs to be more of this high quality, community model approach if we are to break the mould of today’s cheap, quick-to-build, volume homes. Hopefully, the NHQB will address this.
In our rush to build more homes, developers need to create and deliver homes that live up to expectations and not compromise quality and performance. We should be building homes that solve today’s challenges and leave us with a legacy that we are proud of, rather than building poor quality homes that leave us with housing stock that isn’t fit for purpose.
For more information about IMA or to download best practice guides visit: www.insulationmanufacturers.org.uk