On 15th July 2022, the Healthy Homes Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords.
The private member’s bill originated in the Lords rather than the Commons, and it must pass through three more stages in the Lords before it enters the Commons and is passed into law.
Clearly, the Healthy Homes Bill has a long way to go and there are numerous opportunities for it to be amended before the final Parliamentary vote and Royal Assent.
At this relatively early stage, no bill from the Lords is guaranteed to succeed.
However, the history of the bill is unusual and it comes to the Houses of Parliament with a level of agreement and preparation that makes its smooth passage likely.
It was developed from an initiative devised by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and is it both uncontroversial and far-reaching.
At a time when the country is still waiting for ‘levelling up’ to turn from a phrase into a practical policy, its provisions are widely welcomed.
The aim of the Healthy Homes bill is to introduce rigorous minimum standards in the construction of new homes.
It has no application to existing buildings but the current housing shortage demands hundreds of thousands of new homes every year, so the influence and effect of the bill will be extensive.
The current regulatory regime for new builds is considered to be inadequate, fragmentary and inconsistent which means there is no universal guarantee of basic rights such as local services and access to green spaces.
Permitted development was introduced by the 2015 Town and Country Planning Order, a statutory instrument rather than a bill, which many have criticised for exacerbating the situation. Instances have been reported of homes being built under its powers which lack access to natural light, while thousands have been located in industrial estates and office parks.
Some of the order’s powers were limited in 2021, but the concept of overriding local planning concerns through government authority remains.
The Healthy Homes Bill was introduced by Lord Crisp, a crossbench peer who is also an ex-Chief Executive of the NHS.
The legislation was drawn up by the TCPA as a safeguard to stop the new homes of today becoming the slums of tomorrow. The bill is based on 11 healthy homes principles, which the TCPA hopes to make legally binding on developers and planning committees.
To paraphrase the 11 principles, all new homes:
- Must be safe from fire risk
- Must have as a minimum the inhabitable space required to meet the needs of occupants over their entire lives
- Must have natural light in all main rooms
- Must have inclusive, accessible and adaptable surroundings
- Must be in areas with access to sustainable transport and a walkable distance from services and green spaces
- Must be designed to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions
- Must be built with inherent resilience to climate change
- Must be secure and designed to prevent crime
- Must be free from excessive noise and light pollution
- Must minimise and not contribute to unsafe levels of indoor or ambient pollution
- Must provide appropriate heating for year-round occupation
At Inventory Base, we keep a keen eye on legislative and regulatory developments in the housing sector with a professional interest, but we also appreciate their wider social impact.
When the healthy homes bill becomes an act and its provisions attain legal status, it will apply only to newly built homes.
However, the stock in the private rental sector will inevitably represent a growing proportion of new builds, whether through buy-to-let schemes or more traditional landlord investment.
It’s estimated that nearly 9 million homes in the UK are privately rented.
This figure is expected to increase while house prices remain beyond the reach of most first-time buyers, whose only option is to rent. It remains to be seen what effect the provisions of the act will have on prices.
Will developers exploit their new obligations and artificially inflate the cost of new housing? Or will the inherent long-term efficiencies in terms of embedded carbon and emissions reductions be reflected in more affordable prices?
Either way, the current imbalance between wages and the cost of buying a house or flat means that there is unlikely to be much change in the direction of the market.
Investors will pay what’s necessary to buy and renters will have to shop around carefully for the best rental deals.
One irrefutable positive is that tenants in new builds can be sure of living in conditions that are guaranteed by law, as they have been in some Scandinavian countries for decades.
As part of a levelling up agenda, the act will go a long way to equalising access to high-quality housing
Will there be a trickle-down effect?
We’re optimistic that once these new standards are enshrined in law, tenants will come to expect older properties to be retrofitted accordingly.
That expectation could reshape demand and compel landlords to act and that the 11 principles of the healthy homes bill will become a routine part of every property inspection.
Although this will necessarily involve investment from landlords, in the long term it would be beneficial for the entire industry but particularly inventory and property reporting professionals.