Baroness Bakewell: In the final days of the Housing Bill, peers fight for quality

Posted On: 
10th May 2016

Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson, Baroness Bakewell, warns the proposed Lords' amendments to the Housing Bill are necessary "to soften the bill’s hard edges."

Some people might be surprised to hear that the Government’s Housing Bill is not over yet. It feels like it has been going on for a very long time, not least to those of us who have been attacking it. But the reason why it’s not over is because the Lords have been digging their heels in, demanding concessions to soften the bill’s hard edges, and refusing to give up.

Lib Dems have been leading the charge on many aspects of the fight, and three of the five remaining obstacles to the legislation passing are Lib Dem amendments. These are measures to make new homes more flood resilient and low carbon, and to give communities a Neighbourhood Right of Appeal when a council deviates from their local plan.

These things have become sticking points for us, because as we know from our local activism it’s not just the quantity of housing that desperately needs attention, but also the quality.

It’s no good ploughing ahead and building thousands of homes which make future homeowners liable to flooding and responsible for higher energy bills, when simple and cost effective changes could be made at the building stage to protect them. We need more homes, but they must be sustainable.

As well as the impact on individuals, it’s the impact on the environment that matters. If we are serious about making the Paris Agreement a reality and tackling climate change, then we absolutely have to reduce the carbon emissions from homes, which are huge contributors.

There is wide support for our amendments from across the parties and the industry, and that’s why the Government has still failed to get its way in removing them from the bill.

It costs just £3,000 per home to make them low carbon, and probably even less, as costs are rapidly coming down. Compared to the cost of building a new home this pales into insignificance and yet results in a life time of lower bills for homeowners. The cost is three times higher to install solar panels on an existing home than include them in the original build, so it makes obvious sense.

It’s also ludicrous that the Government is failing to ensure new homes are built with sufficient flood protections. We are fighting for developers to use sustainable drainage systems to limit the flood risk, something which would make a big difference.

There is simply no reason why developers should continue to be let off the hook, regardless of whether they are contributing to future flooding. Knowing the devastation suffered by families and businesses from recent floods, we must do everything we can and not allow the Government to put housebuilders before homeowners. It’s time for that to end, and for a new generation of well-built, sustainable homes to begin.