Eddie Hughes MP: We need to rebalance the rights of individuals against the mighty housebuilders
A group of prominent back-bench MPs considered how to improve the quality of the built environment with the Chartered Institute of Building at Conservative Conference.
Eddie Hughes MP has advocated for a regulator with ‘teeth’ that could force house builders to offer refunds to people if their new homes are not up to scratch.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) fringe event at Conservative Party Conference, Hughes was joined by Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Richard Bacon MP and industry leaders to discuss how to improve quality in the built environment.
The ‘mighty’ house builder
Reflecting on constituents who attempted to get redress from housing developers, Hughes lamented that “in many ways they seem to have less rights than they would if they had bought a faulty kettle.”
“Particularly in our role as MPs,” he said, “I think about those people who brought a new house and then find there are problems with it, but they are one small individual against the mighty house builder.”
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Built Environment, the MP has led the calls in Parliament for the creation of a New Homes Ombudsman.
Hughes said he ‘loved’ the idea that, were a home found to have extensive faults, the purchasers could then be refunded their money and allowed to go and buy somewhere else.
The Government recently consulted on how to improve redress for new house buyers and is expected to publish their plans early in the new year.
While acknowledging his ideas could be ‘dramatic’, Hughes stated they were necessary when considering the high quantity of case work MPs had to do on behalf of constituents who were living in poor quality housing.
“The need for a new homes ombudsman is self-evident, to say the least,” he concluded.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP asked why construction quality had “in some respects” reduced over the last 100 years.
He argued it came down to builders “taking shortcuts to get the job done,” adding “quality is not just a measure of regulatory compliance.”
Paul Nash, former CIOB President and Chair of the CIOB’s Construction Quality Commission, mentioned the steps the organisation is taking to help tackle the issue of poor quality in the industry.
“This month we published a code of quality management practice, which is free” he sought to emphasise. The aim of the CIOB Code of Quality Management is to highlight quality issues across the construction process, as well as offer guidance on best practice in construction quality management.
Caroline Gumble, the Chief Executive of CIOB, stated that all professional bodies in construction were committed to the quality agenda, and argued that stakeholders “must get on with implementing the Hackitt Review.”
Hackitt’s independent review of building was announced following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and the final report suggested a new regulatory framework for the industry.
Richard Bacon MP criticised the lack of competition in the construction industry.
He was blunt in his critique of previous Prime Minister Theresa May, terming her calls for house builders to ‘do their duty’ and build more homes “intellectual garbage”.
“Of course, builders have a duty, and it is to make money for their shareholders,” he explained.
Bacon mentioned that some housing executives were known to be paid salaries which ran into the millions of pounds.
“Even by the standard of blood-curdling, right-wing Brexiteer free-market Tories it does sound a little excessive,” he quipped.
“That is money that should have been going into better quality and better thermal performance.”
Bacon pointed out if housing were a competitive market new companies would arrive to offer the consumer better options.
However, in the housing market, “none of those levers are at work,” he claimed.
“If it were the case that consumers routinely knew that your housing product was rubbish, and they had a choice to go somewhere else, you would rapidly go out of business.”
He called for action to create a “level playing field” for building firms in the industry, arguing “we need choice for the consumer.”
Eddie Hughes MP concluded the event by mentioning the tragic deaths which had occurred on construction sites he worked on in his early career.
“We got a grip of health and safety,” he said, “and it is completely possible we can get a grip of this.”
“Let’s not be too despondent.”
“We are capable of doing great stuff, we should just do more of it.”
You can read the CIOB's Quality Code HERE.