Speech

National House Building Council annual lunch

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version. Political content has been removed. When I was a Shadow Minister I heard…


Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Political content has been removed.

When I was a Shadow Minister I heard your calls for Government to stop imposing additional costs on the building industry.

They were consistent, loud and clear.

I’m still hearing them now we’re in Government.

So I wanted to take up the NHBC’s kind invitation to come and tell you what I’m going to do to answer those calls.

Addressing the Public Deficit

I know some of you were at the Housing Market Intelligence Conference last month.

There I set out what I thought a better market would look like.

I said that we need to reduce the public deficit, provide powerful incentives to build new homes, streamline planning, and remove a whole raft of regulations.

These steps would put in place the conditions to get the market moving again.

But the first priority had to be acting swiftly to cut the public deficit.

I know that many had become used to feeding of a level of unsustainable public expenditure - but I am afraid it could not last.

No business could survive with the level of debt the Government was carrying and we had to address it as our first priority.

You only have to look to Ireland to see what unsustainable debt can do to a country’s economy - and a housebuilding industry.

The Market

The previous housing and planning policy was also having a dangerous impact on the market.

Neighbourhoods had little incentive to support growth.

Unattainable targets pitted communities against the very idea of building new homes.

The planning system worked in no one’s interests.

The additional regulatory costs you were forced to bear were in danger of undermining your businesses.

And when the recession came the market stopped working.

Last year fewer homes were built than in any peacetime year since 1924 and we all know that this year isn’t looking any better.

So we have to act quickly to get the market working again - and the New Homes Bonus will provide powerful incentives.

And I would urge you all to respond to that consultation.

But we also need to streamline the planning system and this is on its way too.

Look out for the Localism Bill.

Now we need to get busy lifting the burden of unnecessary regulation and stultifying standards - which holds back the building industry.

The Spending Review committed the Government to reduce the total burden of regulation on house-builders by March 2015. It’s a pledge.

That means action - not words.

So I wanted to come here today to set how we will act to rip up the red tape that restricts your business.

Building Regulations

We are determined to get Building Regs right by reviewing their content with you.

You told us about the changes you think need to be made.

And the feedback we’ve had so far tells us that, whilst Building Regs might not be perfect, there is no need for a major revamp.

I agree - Building Regs are the bedrock. They are the right mechanism to set national minimum standards, and should remain to make sure buildings are safe, and sustainable.

If something ain’t broke don’t fix it - we get that.

My colleague, Andrew Stunell will announce the results of the review soon. There are opportunities for deregulation, as well as key areas for review and possible change in 2013.

New Local Standards Framework

But as you well know, Building Regs are only part of a plethora of additional standards and codes.

And they come with a range of bureaucratic assessment regimes dictated by central Government, various quangos, agencies and advisory bodies. They’re sometimes even in conflict with each other.

So today I want to kick off a process for working out how I can help you by further deregulating and de-cluttering.
To make things simple and less of a burden on your business.

I want to introduce the new idea of a “local standards framework” - an idea that will simplify and unify all of the standards.

The principle is that a framework will be a defined menu of technically robust costed standards from which local authorities or neighbourhoods would choose - if they want to set additional standards in their local area.

The “framework” will help people make the right choices at the local level.

I can almost hear you thinking - so what’s going to be in the framework?

But I’m afraid I can’t tell you that - for one simple reason.

I don’t know!

Why?

Because that will be up to you to work out.

Developing the Local Standards Framework

I want the Local Standards Framework to be developed by you - the broad church represented in this room today.

I don’t think central Government should determine what the standards specify.

In the spirit of decentralisation I want to ask you to help sort out the mess and to take a leading role in the development of the ‘local standards framework’.

You are the people who know most about the impact of regulations and codes. So who better to ask to help deliver a better system?

I am certain you will stress the need to make sure any options proposed don’t impose unrealistic burdens.

Burdens that could lead to fewer homes getting built.

If it’s going to work the Framework will need to be developed, owned and maintained by those who will use it so we will want to involve local government as well.

The NHBC have offered to help and I am grateful for that and I think others in the industry should also get involved.

Government will play our role in helping - so I’m asking my officials to help you develop the idea and later, to make the Framework bite I think it should be part of planning policy, to make it happen.

Ripping Up Red Tape

Now I can hear you muttering - that is all well and good but we need action now.

Well, this Government is trying to do what it says:

We said we’d cut the public deficit - we are.

We said we’d cull the quangos - we have.

We said we’d get rid of HIPs - we did.

And I can announce today that the HCA will not implement the new standards they have been working on.

For the meantime the HCA will continue to use existing standards.

This will save an average increase in build costs of £8,000 per unit.

In the long run, the standards that apply to private and public housing should be exactly the same. My ambition is to harmonise standards at the earliest opportunity - I just don’t understand why all homes shouldn’t be the same great standard.

I am also removing all centrally-imposed standards for houses built on surplus central government land.

Right - so that’s a start made in ripping up the red tape.

Conclusion

Now it’s over to you to propose some more.

Yesterday I encouraged council leaders to seek out and destroy red tape that held them back - now I want you to do the same.

So, today, I’ve sent out a call for action - asking for your help in identifying other bits of red tape that I can rip up.

Obviously we’ve just been through a review of Building Regulations, so there is no need to repeat your views on those.

But any red tape that impacts on development viability (be it national, local, voluntary, site-specific, or a general business requirement) is fair game.

I am asking you to send me your list by the end of December.

As with your proper Christmas lists, the more specific you can be the better.

But I’m sorry that Santa won’t be able to sort out anything on the lists of regulations by Christmas Eve.

There won’t be enough time to get the elves to work.

But I’m making an early new year’s resolution that I’ll spend next year ripping up regulation - why not join me?