Tag Archives: standards

Micro Homes – Smaller Than A Hotel Room

Welcome to ‘rabbit hutch’ Britain as Government gives the green ight to even smaller micro homes

“Ridiculous” – “immoral” – “dog kennels” – “shoe boxes” – “rabbit hutches” These are just some of the words local residents have used to describe Britain’s micro homes – Government-endorsed “favelas in the sky.”

It would appear the Government is intent on cramming an ever increasing number of ‘hard working British people’ into ever smaller areas and living spaces. Evidence of this provided by the Housing White Paper, with its proposal to review the guidance on minimum sizes for new homes, despite the “nationally described space standard” only being in force since October 2015.

The Government proposes to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to make it clear that plans and individual development proposals should:

  • make efficient use of land and avoid building homes at low densities where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing requirements;
  • address the particular scope for higher-density housing in urban locations”

We also want to make sure the standards do not rule out new approaches to meeting demand, building on the high quality compact living model of developers such as Pocket Homes

Micro HomesThe pocket homes the government deem ‘high quality’ are little more than 38sqm – just one square metre larger than the government’s own minimum space standard for one person living in a one-bedroom flat. If two people live there, the minimum space is 50sq m so these new “homes” don’t meet the standard. But many micro homes are under half this size with floor areas often as little as 15sq m.

These ‘pick-pocket’ micro homes, potential slums of tomorrow, are allowed under ‘permitted development rights’ when in 2013, the government allowed office blocks to be converted for new homes without the need to go through the full planning process. As a result homes built in converted office blocks do not have to meet minimum floor areas or requirements for affordable housing.

These office block conversions could also be death traps in the event of a fire. The Building Regulations in England do not require sprinkler systems in residential buildings. Not even in multi-occupation timber-framed apartment blocks. It is inconceivable that these ex-office buildings would have floors capable of structurally supporting fire-resistant masonry partitions which are far more capable of preventing the spread of fire throughout a floor.

Micro homes in Barnet HouseOfficial government housing supply figures for 2015/2016, released in November 2016, show 189,650 net additions to housing supply, with 30,600 coming from change of use from non-domestic to residential, 12,824 of those from conversions of former office blocks. No wonder the government is happy to back micro homes, it helps the figures look better! Nearly three-quarters of the stated growth in housing supply has come from these urban office block conversions. The HBF is also happy to include these in its propaganda “promoting awareness of increases in output and rebut negative claims on build quality”

So now in addition to buying poor quality, buyers have to be aware of buying teeny-weeny  new micro homes, “inspired by yacht design”, often as small as bedroom in a ‘normal’ new house – 4.2m x 3.87m (16sq m) and almost as small as the size of a single garage.

Where are these micro homes being “built”?

A development in Archway of eight flats in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency, where two of the apartments were just 13.5sq m, was thankfully refused by the council but only because of “issues relating to previous use.”

Barnet – micro homes, smaller than a Travelodge room”

Micro homes in Barnet HouseMeadow Residential plans to convert an 11-storey concrete block in Barnet into 254 “flats”. The main issue being, 96% of these will be below the 37sq m minimum space standard for a single person. Some of the “apartments” have floor areas of only 16sq m – 40% less than a 28sq m Travelodge room!
Conservative led Barnet council told The Times it could not prevent the scheme going ahead due to permitted development legislation, despite being of the opinion the “flats are not what we think are appropriate living spaces for our residents”. In this area similar sized studio flats sell for up to £180,000 and cost £800 per month to rent.
Barnet House floor plan

Heathrow and London

High house prices in London and south-east England are facilitating the conversion of more office blocks. A former American Airlines office block near Heathrow has been converted to provide 288 “flats”. An application was also lodged for converting Lewisham House in south east London into 230 new “homes.” The Independent reported on Pocket homes in Southall, Ealing that recently sold for £165,000. The latest development, in Brixton, has one-bedroom apartments from £248,500 and ‘boasts’ communal gardens and cycle storage!

Croydon – the UK hotspot for micro homes

It would appear that Croydon, is fast becoming a UK micro homes hotspot. In housing minister Gavin Barwell’s own constituency, Guardian Money found a studio “flat” in the centre of Croydon with a floor area of less than 15sq m. Others in Croydon “tracked down” by the Guardian, included a 14.9sq m flat in George Street and a 16sq m home in Barclay Road. Inspired Asset Management has developed hundreds of micro flats, many of them in Croydon. Unsurprisingly, Inspired told the Guardian it was “delighted” the government plans to review the space standards. A spokesman confirming that a one-bed flat has a typical floor area of 30sq m – 36sq m, whilst admitting it had built even smaller flats previously. They claim there is a strong demand for such property, having built 515 micro “apartments” since 2013 – 90% of which sold before completion.

The housebuilders’ lobby group Home Builders Federation [HBF] have persistently argued against minimum space standards for private housing, with spurious claims it reduces “customer choice” – “If you make a house bigger, it’s naturally going to be more expensive, so if you take away that choice by specifying a minimum size, you are by definition ruling out a section of the market on an affordability basis.”

Gavin Barwell- current housing ministerHousing minister, Gavin Barwell, voiced a similar opinion in a speech last autumn when he suggested it might not now be possible for young people to afford to buy a full-sized home, so builders should look to build ever smaller, more affordable homes. He said:
“Now look: most people, given the choice, would like to live in a nice big home. But I think for many young people – if I was 22 today, I would rather have the chance to own that than be priced out.”

Something tells me that no member of parliament would be prepared to live in any of these micro “homes”, even for just four nights a week.

At least Pocket’s “high quality compact living model” flats of around 37sq m are over double the size of the smallest. The company has built 297 with another 700 in the pipeline. The average price is £255,000 but a one-bedroom flat in Lambeth will cost £332,000, hardly pocket-money prices, but still well below the average price £421,553, paid by first-time buyers in the capital.

In 2014, researchers from Cambridge University discovered Britain’s new homes were the smallest in Europe; with an average floor area of just 76sq m, about the size of a tube train.

Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said late last year.

“We urgently need new homes, but building small homes or cutting corners when converting office buildings to flats is short-sighted and fails the people these new homes are meant to serve. The Government must take action to ensure a fairer minimum space standard is applied to all new homes across the country.”

It has long been recognised that small cramped conditions are detrimental to health and well-being. These micro homes may be perfectly suitable as temporary stop-gap accommodation for those made homeless. But surely they cannot be regarded as part of a long term solution to fix “Britain’s broken housing market.”  As a developed, first-world country, the UK government should not be promoting and rubber-stamping its approval for what is little more than the 21st century equivalent of a third-world mud hut.

Shadow housing minister, John Healey, agrees accusing the government of: “giving developers a free hand to bypass proper planning process, sidestep affordable housing requirements and build rabbit hutch homes that aren’t fit for purpose. Short-sighted new developments are no shortcut to building the homes the country needs.”

Graeme Brown, interim chief executive of Shelter, said:
“In theory, converting offices sounds like a good way of creating some of the homes we need in a time of crisis. But in reality, it’s often used by developers as a way of cashing in on people’s desperation by building unaffordable, rabbit-hutch homes. Our homes are already among the smallest in Europe, and if the government allows developers to cut corners by slashing space standards in homes even more, they will be punishing ordinary families in the process.”

For more information, see Julia Park’s excellent publication One hundred years of housing space standards. What next?  What indeed.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Fitting carbon monoxide alarms in new homes should be mandatory

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

The fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in new homes should be a mandatory requirement of the Building Regulations in England and Wales.  It may come as a surprise to learn that every year over 4,000 people are admitted to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning that could lead to brain damage and strokes – with 40 fatalities recorded in England and Wales. One in nine British homes have boilers classified as unsafe.

The new home defect that kills

You can’t see it, you can’t smell it. Carbon Monoxide – the new home defect that kills!

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the equivalent to the building regulations, requires a BS EN 50291 kite-marked carbon monoxide alarm to be fitted when any new or replacement fuel appliance is installed (except cookers). This covers any fuel burning appliance, including those that burn gas, oil, coal and wood. The alarms must be fitted in any room with the appliance or if it is an enclosed boiler, just outside the enclosure and any room that has a flue running through it. Alarms can be mains or battery powered but if the alarm is battery powered then the battery should last for the life of the alarm.

No requirement in England and Wales:
But the Building Regulations for England and Wales, Approved Document J, only require carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted when any new or replacement solid-fuel appliance is installed. Examples of solid fuel burning appliances being wood burners, open fires etc. There is also additional legislation requiring a carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted in all rented residential accommodation with gas appliances, but not in owner-occupied homes.

Around 84% of UK homes now have smoke detectors but only around 15% have carbon monoxide alarms, putting countless families in danger. Fitting carbon monoxide alarms could save many lives. But currently there are no regulations that require the fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in new homes with gas boilers installed.

Following on from my article Is your new home killing you? about instances of carbon monoxide poisoning in newly built homes leaking from gas boilers, I asked the NHBC – given the industry’s chequered history of carbon monoxide leaking from gas boilers/boiler flues installed in the homes under its warranty – if it thought that a carbon monoxide alarm should be fitted in every new home with a gas appliance? If so, why hasn’t the NHBC included this as a requirement in the latest 2017 Warranty Standards?  I was quite shocked by the reply:

“Thank you for your email to our Chairman; she has asked me to respond. As you may be aware, issues of health and safety are dealt with through statutory Building Regulations, which are set by government. Approved Document J ‘Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems’ does ask for a carbon dioxide alarm to be provided where a solid fuel appliance is located but there is currently no similar requirement in the case of gas appliances.

I would therefore suggest that you may wish address your enquiry to government department responsible for Building Regulations – the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Head of Technical Policy at the Building Regulation and Standards Division is Richard Harral and his email address is: richard.harral@communities.gsi.gov.uk.”

So I duly contacted Mr Harral at the DCLG on 1st February and received his reply, 12 days later, confirming that he had “passed this on to the policy lead who oversees Building Regulations requirements for Carbon Monoxide alarms. He will provide a response in due course.” Mr Harral also pointed out that “responsibility for Building Regulations in Wales is now the responsibility of the Welsh Government.”

I had previously e mailed communities secretary Sajid Javid and housing minister Gavin Barwell regarding ongoing instances of dangerous gas boilers in new homes. This was the response from the DCLG:

“Thank you for your email of 17 January 2017 to Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell, raising concerns about the quality of new homes. I have been asked to reply on their behalf.

In relation to the concerns you have raised about dangerous boilers. All heat producing gas appliances and their flues must be installed by installers registered with Gas Safe Register, a statutory registration scheme under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. The enforcing authority for these regulations is the Health and Safety Executive and complaints about installations that are considered unsafe should be made to it.

There is a requirement that the installation of gas appliances be self-certified as compliant. However, these certificates are evidence, but not conclusive evidence, of compliance. This means that building control bodies could take formal enforcement action where work was found not to comply despite a self-certificate having been given. It also means that the building owner would be able to make a claim in the civil courts.”

So basically no requirement is considered necessary by the standards setting authorities or the government. Furthermore, formal enforcement action is not required and would not be taken by anyone, until it became known a boiler was leaking carbon monoxide, by which time it could be fatal and too late. Quiet how the “building owner would be able to make a claim in the civil courts”  I don’t know, they could be dead!

Although not a new-build home, 31 year-old Katie Haines was killed by carbon monoxide in her cottage shortly after returning from her honeymoon in February 2010. The Katie Haines Memorial Trust, set up a petition to lobby the Government to make CO alarms compulsory across the UK, in a similar way to smoke alarms.  It closed on 30 March 2015 and attracted 5,321 signatures, not enough to trigger the government into action.

Her mother said at the time:
“Two young men died in Northern Ireland the same year as Katie and legislation both on council and government level has been pushed through quickly. We feel that we should have the same duty of care in England and Wales.”

Carbon Monoxide AlarmsBut seven years later, there is still no legislation in England and Wales for mandatory fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in new homes where gas appliances are installed, yet there is in Northern Ireland and Scotland!

Despite the lack of any mandatory regulations requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted in all new homes with gas boilers, the three largest housebuilders have all confirmed to me that they now fit carbon monoxide alarms “as standard” in every new home with a gas appliance.

Persimmon homes said:
“It has been Persimmon Homes’ group policy since September 2012 to fit a carbon monoxide detector/alarm to all properties with a gas fired appliance of any type. Current models include the CO-9BT or similar approved models.”Carbon Monoxide AlarmsTaylor Wimpey said

“Thank you for your email, the contents of which are noted and which relates to a matter which we take very seriously.

We are aware of the tragedy that you refer to in your email, which took place at the Barratt Bedfont Lakes development in 2008.

Following a detailed review that we undertook in and around 2011, since 2012 (when we also commenced the phasing out the use of extended gas flues) we have required all of our business units to fit CO monitors in all homes with gas appliances. Our policy is to fit CO monitors in all rooms where a gas appliance is fitted – in some homes, this could involve the fitting of multiple monitors including in rooms with a gas boiler, gas hob or gas fire/s. There is further instruction issued on how that is done, and the positions of the monitors is shown on the house type drawings and customer drawings which the sales executive will run through with our customers.

Please find attached an information leaflet on the Honeywell XC100, which is the monitor that we currently fit. In 2012, we also undertook an exercise of raising the profile of the risks of CO to both customers and homeowners and this included making available free CO monitors retrospectively.”

Barratt confirmed bluntly:
“Yes, we fit CO detectors to all houses and apartments which have a gas boiler.”

But do they? I asked new home buyers in the Unhappy New Home Buyers Facebook Group if they had Carbon Monoxide alarms fitted in homes built by these builders:

Two Barratt new homebuyers responded, one said they had, the other said : “when we moved in in June 2011, we didn’t have one even though it was listed on the specification. It took the Customer Services Manager multiple attempts to deliver one….. we now have a couple of spare central heating control units which he delivered by mistake…”

The few Taylor Wimpey buyers who did respond, all confirmed they had a CO alarms fitted.

Carbon Monoxide The Persimmon homebuyers that responded, overwhelmingly that demonstrated that many Persimmon homes would appear not to have CO alarms fitted, despite the company confirming it was “group policy since September 2012 to fit a carbon monoxide detector/alarm to all properties with a gas fired appliance of any type.”

All twelve Persimmon buyers who responded, confirmed they didn’t have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted: six bought in 2015, two in 2014, two in 2013 and one in 2012. Another buyer said his whole street haven’t a CO alarm fitted!

When I notified Persimmon of this they said:
If you can supply me with the names, addresses and phone numbers of each of the people I’ll gladly get in touch with them.”

It should also be noted that these are battery sealed-for-life CO alarms and need to be replaced every 7 to 10 years.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

NHBC hand millions in cash-backs to housebuilders

The NHBC has come into justifiable criticism in the national press recently. The NHBC provides warranties for around 80% of new homes built in any given year. Last year its accounts show it spent £90 million fixing 11,000 defective new homes. What is not listed is the total number of claims the NHBC rejected because the estimated cost of remedial work was judged (by the NHBC) to be less than their ‘minimum claim value’, currently £1,550. So unless buyer’s homes need costly repairs, their warranty claims are often rejected.

The NHBC state on their website:

“Our purpose is to work with the house-building industry to raise the standards of new homes and to provide protection for homebuyers in the form of Buildmark warranty and insurance. We are an independent, non-profit distributing company limited by guarantee – neither part of government, nor a charity. Our business is run by the Board of Directors with surpluses being re-invested in the improvement and development of our products and services.”

The standard of UK new homes is at its lowest since 2009 according to the results of the NHBC’s own Customer Satisfaction Survey!  So it might come as surprise to learn that in yesterday’s Guardian, Graham Ruddick reported that the NHBC has been paying around £10m-£15m every year to housebuilders in what he describes “is effectively a profit-share agreement.”

It certainly does raise more questions about the NHBC’s independence and credibility. Many new homebuyers have been openly questioning the independence of the NHBC for years.

The NHBC’s rebate scheme hands more money back to the larger housebuilders, with payments of up to £2million a year, for those registering the most homes with the NHBC. This tie-in and lack of independent transparency cannot be helpful to either the industry, or those buying new homes. It is yet another example of a wave of scandals currently being exposed in this broken industry.

The Guardian reported that:

“A senior industry source said the annual payment to the housebuilders was a way to keep them “sweet” and ensure they remained NHBC customers. The source also said that the system is open to abuse, and there were at least two occasions since 2010 when a major housebuilder asked for an extra or increased payment which was approved by NHBC.”

There have been a raft of complaints in the national press against several housebuilders, most notably Bovis, who were exposed last month as having tried to ‘bribe’ their buyers to legally complete on unfinished homes.  This exposes a general lack of protection and an absence of any mechanism where buyers can be properly compensated, other than taking civil action in the courts.

NHBCThe NHBC new home warranty is a form of insurance policy that is supposed to cover the cost of fixing faults in new homes due to non-adherence of warranty standards or building regulations within the first 10 years. The NHBC inspect homes at key stages, last year reported that around 98.5% of key stage warranty inspections were carried out, a total of 798,000 inspections, finding 357,000 items that required builder rectification.

Concerns emerge over the independence of the biggest warranty provider

This is the first time it has been revealed that the NHBC has and is paying millions to plc house builders in what it refers to as “premium refund” payments in its financial accounts. However, it is only mentioned in the notes to the accounts (page 103) and the amount paid out has not been disclosed.

A letter seen by The Guardian from the NHBC to a housebuilder states part of the premium paid 15 years ago is eligible for a refund. It explains how the payment is calculated, being based on the number of homes registered by the housebuilder 15 years ago, the cost of claims paid on those homes and any investment return earned by the NHBC on the premiums paid. Fifteen years, allowed time for the homes to be built and for the ten-year warranty liability to expire. In addition, the NHBC also decides the size of the total pot of money that it shares with housebuilders.

The letter also says:  “The NHBC remains committed to providing as much support to the industry as we can, such as pricing new business at breakeven, whilst using the strength of our balance sheet to continue to return past profits to house builders with good claims records”

However, former NHBC chief executive Imtiaz Farookhi said in the NHBC  Annual Review 2003:  “Our operating result for the year shows a pre-tax surplus of £6.2 million, an increase of £1.0 million on last year’s £5.2 million surplus. As NHBC is a non-profit distributing company, all post-tax surplus is re-invested to further raise standards in the new house-building industry and to continue to provide consumer protection for new homebuyers. But the ‘premium refund’ system was established in the 1990s!

The Guardian said that the NHBC defended the payments but refused to confirm how much it had paid out to housebuilders or comment on the extra payments to the two housebuilders.

The NHBC responded:

“NHBC provides a market-leading warranty, which currently protects 1.6 million UK consumers. Last year we paid £90m in respect of claims in addition to providing assistance to homeowners through our resolution service, which mediates between homeowners and their builder and last year found in favour of homeowners in 70% of cases.”

“As is standard practice, we do not discuss our commercial transactions or our underwriting terms. It is common practice in the insurance industry to recognise good claims history in a number of ways such as noclaim bonuses, and this is what our premium refund system, established in the 1990s and disclosed in our accounts, is designed to achieve. The system is consistently applied and is based on clear rules and processes. As this refund recognises long-term good claims history, the rules state that builders do not need to be current NHBC customers to receive it.”

“The sum paid in refunds is a very small proportion of NHBC’s annual turnover.”

The NHBC told The Times it paid ‘only’ £4.5million in ‘premium refunds’ last year, compared to the £90 million cost of claims to rectify defective new homes under its warranty.

The non-profit NHBC could put this spare surplus money to better use

NHBCInstead of handing a “premium refund” of £4,500,000 to 13 plc housebuilders already making average pre tax profits of 20%, which totalled £3,992,000,000 last year, surely the NHBC should be using these cash surpluses which they claim are “re-invested in the improvement and development of our products and services.” and “raise the standards of new homes”?

Here are a few suggestions of how this money could have been better used:

  1. Give a £10,000 prize (tax free) to each of the 417 site managers winning a NHBC Pride in the Job Quality Award. This might encourage the other 14,600 site managers to be more quality focused!
  2. Increase the number of NHBC inspectors. At £35,000 a year the £4.5m would pay for another 129 inspectors, meaning they could make 257,240 additional inspections or spend 35% more time on sites, inspecting and more importantly, re-inspecting!
  3. Increase the salary paid to its 400 inspectors by £10,000, to attract the best professionals from within the industry, rather than the cheapest.
  4. Fund 450 trade apprentices, paying each £10,000 a year NHBC ‘scholarships’, to help address the “skills shortage”.
  5. Pay (at least) 3,000 homebuyers’ warranty claims that are rejected because the estimated cost works required is below the minimum claim value of £1,500 (in 2016). To “provide protection for MORE homebuyers”

NHBC board directors have close links to housebuilders

Two of the thirteen directors that make up the NHBC governing board have close ties to the housebuilding industry. Stewart Baseley is executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the industry’s trade body which says it is: “the voice of the home building industry in England and Wales. Representing member interests on a national and regional level.”  The other is Stephen Stone, chief executive of listed housebuilder Crest Nicholson. Stone replaced Greg Fitzgerald who stepped down from the NHBC board last year, and is CEO of Galliford Try trading as housebuilder Linden Homes.

The lack of independence and clear conflict of interest of these two NHBC non-executive board directors raises further concerns about the governance of NHBC and its impartiality. The HBF also has six of its representatives on the NHBC Council.

In response to another story in the Guardian an NHBC spokesperson said:

“NHBC adopts the highest principles of UK governance and all our board members are chosen for the contribution and value they can add to NHBC’s purpose. There are clear procedures in place to record declarations of interest and manage potential conflicts. NHBC’s board comprises 13 members drawn from a diverse range of sectors including the financial services sector, public service and in some cases from the housing sector.

“Those directors from the homebuilding industry are in the minority. Their presence is extremely valuable to the board as a whole as they bring current knowledge of the industry and of the issues it faces, which can help to shape and determine our business strategy. Because of that their insight and input is critical to our decision-making.

“All board appointments are notified to our regulators and some appointments require prior before the individual can take up their position.”

MPs call for the government to introduce a fully independent new homes ombudsman to adjudicate fairly on all complaints about new homes.

The Conservative MP for Plymouth Oliver Colvile, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on excellence in the Built Environment, said he had great concern about the independence of NHBC. He is calling for a fully independent new homes ombudsman to be set up by government and for homebuyers to have a mandatory right to inspect their new home before they legally complete the purchase.

Mr Colville told the Guardian: “I think what needs to happen is that the government needs to look at this seriously. This is a consumer rights issue,” he said. “Let’s put the consumer on top of the list. I want to see action on this issue.”

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Government push to build prefabs to meet its housing target

Prefab Sprout! Flat pack new homes – no Allen keys required! But will  prefabs be the answer to Britain’s housing crisis?

As reported in The Telegraph last Saturday, the government is to embark on a building programme to “embrace the first new generation of pre-packed homes since the reconstruction after the Second World War.” prefab-post-warBy using prefabricated homes that can be delivered to site and built [thrown up] in 48 hours. While the Department for Communities and Local Government [DCLG] is not expected to set a hard target, (one lesson learned at least!) government sources said it was hoped that more than 100,000 prefabs could be built by May 2020 – around 2,500 a month.  Theresa May’s Government is struggling to work out how to meet a commitment to build a million new homes by 2020.

Clearly the large housebuilders, supported in every respect by this and previous government policy, have failed to deliver any meaningful and desired increase in production – even now, they are building fewer new homes than were built in 2007. Profiteering from landbanking? – Channel 4 Dispatches ‘Britain’s Homebuilding Scandal’ due to be aired on Monday 7 November 2016 will no doubt highlight this.

But is there really a housing crisis? Or at least a crisis caused by a shortage of housing? Surely if this were the case migrants, both economic and genuine refugees, would not be allowed to enter the country as presumably, there would be nowhere for them to live. In 2015,  30,000 migrants were given social housing and around  9,000 servicemen currently sleep rough after leaving the military.

The real crisis is working British people cannot afford to buy a home of their own, due to a combination of low wages and house price inflation stoked by government policies such as ultra -low interest rates and Help to Buy. Insufficient homes to rent or so-called affordable homes making an already bad situation worse.oxley-wood-prefabs-2007But is building prefabs a solution? Has the Government forgotten the nightmare suffered by buyers at Taylor Wimpey’s Oxley Woods development in Milton Keynes? These pre-fabricated properties built in 2007 for just £60,000 each, which they claimed could be knocked-up in 24 hours. The site at Oxley Woods was the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s flagship scheme to develop low-cost, energy-efficient homes. But as reported in the Daily Mail in 2014, a secret leaked report stated that “wooden supporting structures of some of the homes, from scheme developer Taylor Wimpey, are saturated.” It also found examples of ‘poor workmanship and practice’ in laying part of the roof. Seven years later this modern day, pre-fabricated, system-built new housing, has been shown to be as bad if not worse, than the traditional new homes that have been built for many years. Some of these prefabs may even be irreparable requiring demolition.

Ronan PointBefore this was Ronan Point, part of the wave of tower blocks built in the 1960s as cheap, affordable prefabricated housing for inhabitants in West Ham and other areas of London. The tower was built by Taylor Woodrow Anglian, using a technique known as Large Panel System building (LPS), which involves casting large concrete prefabricated sections off-site and bolting them together to construct the building.

Despite this, Britain is to get a new wave of prefabs as the government plans to offer help to build 100,000 factory-made homes. Industry buzzwords like Modern Methods of Construction [MMC] and “modular homes” are being used to describe the new generation of prefabs, aimed at young first-time buyers to “help them on to the housing ladder.”  These prefabs should be allocated to migrants and non-working Britons. It is patently unfair that young working British people are expected to take on a mortgage (if they can get one!) to pay for a sub-standard, prefab kit new “home” while non-workers on housing benefit are able to live in traditionally-built houses. It is easy for ministers to be misguided into thinking, after visiting these new home factories, that modern day prefabs will be of ‘good quality’. They won’t be built to the exacting standards of German made and constructed Huf-Haus new homes that’s for sure!

Even a “Wee House” can take 8 weeks to build!

Whilst the issue regarding the dire quality of new homes that are currently being built, along with the implementation of additional measures to protect new homebuyers is ignored, such as the DCLG setting up a New Homes Ombudsman, this headline-grabbing Government plans to publish a white paper next month, that will include measures to encourage banks to lend to small firms that build houses off-site, which are then delivered to a final destination. Ministers have apparently, taken a “huge interest” in 21st-century prefabs after being impressed that some were erected on site in just 48 hours. However, these homes were not fully 100% complete. Ministers would do well to recognise, there is no shortcut to quality housing!

The Telegraph reported that Accord Group, a housing association in the West Midlands, can produce a three-bedroom house from scratch in a day in its factory and has been visited by government figures. But claims by Accord Group of two homes “put up in one day” are misleading. The film below shows the assembly of little more than a timber frame kit, of the type that large housebuilders have been using for over 30 years, yet still appear incapable of constructing them to the required standards. Furthermore, foundations, substructure, drainage and ground floor and scaffolding were all completed before the “one day” started. In addition safety on site appears to be being compromised in the ‘rush to complete’ as there is no fall arrest system in place when the first floor ‘cassettes’ were lifted into position. Of course the likes of Gavin Barwell and Sajid Javid will not know any of this, anymore than they realise that there will be more delays connecting gas, water and electrical services and the time it takes to construct road infrastructure on developments.

Gavin Barwell, the housing minister, said that the Government sees a “huge opportunity” in manufacturers building houses off-site as it tries to find new ways of “achieving” its home building targets. Barwell said: “Offsite construction could provide a huge opportunity to increase housing supply and we want to see more innovation like this emulated across the housebuilding sector.”

If Barwell is serious, he would do well to fund the building of council houses for working families at affordable rents. To be built by local building contractors on fixed-price, fixed-term contracts, rather than yet more subsidised headline grabbing policies, which will have little impact on this failing industry.

Last week, Ed Lister, chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency said the government should encourage a wider range of firms to build homes, including those with no prior experience! Lister, a former deputy mayor of London told Building Magazine: “Why can’t any company come along and set up a development company using MMC (modern methods of construction) and build homes?”

The government has also indicated it wants a wider range of firms building homes. Gavin Barwell told Building last week that Theresa May is “very keen” to see a wider range of organisations building new homes in the UK. So not only will we have 100,000 prefabs but they could be thrown up by organisations, that have little or no building experience too!

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Annual Report 2015/16 – Consumer Code for Home Builders

The first  Annual Report by the Consumer Code for Home Builders since April 2014, was finally published this month.

In May 2014, I asked the question, Is the Consumer Code for Home Builders (CCHB) fit for purpose? In March this year I wrote that the Consumer Code for Home Builders is failing new homebuyers. This voluntary code was launched in April 2010 and has been inadequate and failing new homebuyers ever since.

In July, a report published by the APPG Inquiry Into Quality of New Homes found that:

  • “The Code [Consumer Code for Home Builders] does not appear to give homebuyers the safeguards we think they should expect.
  • It does not appear to us objectively to offer consumers a wholly satisfactory form of redress.
  • The Consumer Code for Homebuilders is limited in its scope.”
APPG Inquiry Report Publication 13 July 2016

APPG Inquiry recognises a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman should be set up.

The APPG Inquiry “Key recommendation” is the setting up of a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman.  It said that the Ombudsman:  would need to be completely independent and replace the dispute resolution service offered as part of the Consumer Code for Home Builders.”

Continue reading

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Sign The Petition For Better Quality New Homes

With  greater protection for those that buy them!

The only way the housebuilding industry will change for the better, is if enough people sign this petition. This Government is pre occupied with its blinkered approach to increasing quantity of new homes being built, throwing billions of taxpayer’s money at housebuilders in the process. Just last week another £5bn was earmarked for an industry that cares so little for its own customers and the quality of the product they sell.

APPG Inquiry ReportAn all party group of MPs had an Inquiry last year Into the Quality of New Homes. The Inquiry Report made ten recommendations, including the number one “key recommendation” the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman. All of the recommendation have the potential to not only force housebuilders to improve the quality of the homes they build, but also give those that buy new homes better protection via access to a New Homes Ombudsman.petitionWe have been here before with the Barker Review of 2004, Office of Fair Trading Market Study of Home Building in the UK October 2008, and now more recently the APPG Inquiry 2016. Yet surprisingly, there has not been any legislation to force this failing industry to improve.

Continue reading

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Proposed Statutory Levy On Housebuilders That Fail To Train

farmer reviewIn February 2016, the government asked the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to look at the labour model within the construction industry and the pressures on skills and other constraints that limit housebuilding and infrastructure development in the UK. The CLC commissioned Mark Farmer to undertake a review and his report, The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model was published on 17 October 2016.

The independent Farmer Review, commissioned by two Government departments, highlights construction’s dysfunctional training model, its lack of innovation and collaboration as well as its non-existent research and development (R&D) culture. Farmer says the construction sector must “modernise or die” and faces “inexorable decline” unless radical steps are taken to address its longstanding problems.

Continue reading

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Persimmon Homes Employee Reveals All In Secret Recording Of Meeting

Persimmon Contracts Manager’s site meeting rant.

Secret recordingA few weeks ago I was given part of a secretly recorded site meeting. In the recording, which I am of the opinion is genuine, a Persimmon contracts manager expresses his opinions.  The priorities of Persimmon Homes – would appear to be, build as many new homes, as quickly as possible. Or in his own words let’s make as much f***ing money as we can; let’s slash out as many f***ing units as we can because the market allows us.”  

This is part of a two-hour recording, made in November 2015 during a Persimmon Homes South Coast Region sub contractor’s site meeting. It was sent to me by one of the sub contractors, also told me:

Continue reading

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

APPG Inquiry – ten recommendations to improve the quality of new homes

The All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry Into the Quality of New Homes In England has made ten recommendations and says house builders should be “upping their game and putting consumers at the heart of the business model. Alongside this, Government should use its influence to promote quality at every opportunity.” The cross party committee of MPs and construction experts called on the Government [DCLG] to set up a New Homes Ombudsman to mediate in disputes between homebuyers and housebuilders. This is the number one “key recommendation” of 10 recommendations setting out measures to improve the quality of workmanship in new homes and provide consumers with easier and cheaper forms of redress, to get defects and problems fixed. 

APPG Inquiry Report Recommendations:

Recommendation 1: DCLG should initiate steps to set up a New Homes Ombudsman.

APPG Inquiry Report Recommendations“The role would include mediating disputes between consumers and their builders or warranty providers to offer a quick resolution procedure paid for by a housebuilders’ levy. We see this is as the key recommendation to provide more effective consumer redress, if things go wrong, and a good way of applying pressure on housebuilders and warranty providers to deliver a better quality service. Our view is that the new service should be funded by a levy on the sector, but it would need to be completely independent and replace the dispute resolution service offered as part of the Consumer Code for Home Builders. Our recommendation picks up on one made by the Office of Fair Trading, in its 2008 market study into the house building industry, which suggested that, if the industry failed to make satisfactory progress, it would recommend further intervention in the form of a statutory redress mechanism for new homebuyers funded by a levy on the industry.  

Although funded by the construction industry [housebuilders] it should be a public body not under the industry’s control. It should provide a cheap, quick and effective system of redress and have power to enforce standards and award compensation. This would put pressure on housebuilders to up their game in the first place and spur them on to improve workmanship and increase levels of service.” 

Continue reading

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

House builders are cheating new home air leakage testing

Since 2006, Part L of the Building Regulations – The Conservation of Fuel and Power in England and Wales – has required mandatory air leakage testing of new buildings including homes. These regulations were further revised in 2010. But this does not mean every new home will be subject to an air leakage test to comply even under the latest 2010 Part L.

What is air leakage testing?

Air Leakage TestingAir leakage testing basically checks that a new home is air tight and will not let in draughts or provide a route for heat to escape through gaps in the structure. After sealing up all required vents to windows and extractors, air is then drawn out of the home via a large fan in an external doorway, with the pressure monitored for a set period of time to produce a measurement of the amount of air that leaks back into the home being tested.

So you would think that since 2010, all new homes would be relatively air tight, free of draughts and cheap to heat as a result?

Continue reading

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter