Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Supplementary memorandum by RIBA (AFH 31(a))

  The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Urban Affairs sub-committee on the issue of affordable housing, and records its willingness to submit oral evidence if the Committee considers this appropriate.

  The RIBA is a professional chartered institute, whose membership consists of some 28,000 architects in the United Kingdom and internationally. The RIBA also has a network of 14 regional offices throughout the UK. The RIBA has consistently addressed the challenges of housing policy in an ever-changing environment.

  It is essential that the government addresses the shortage of affordable housing to prevent a fundamental breakdown in the provision of key public services and the effective running of major transport infrastructure. This shortage is particularly apparent in London and the South East.

  The RIBA believes that increased resources committed to public services such as health and education will generate an increased demand for affordable housing as new key workers are recruited. It is generally assumed that key workers are those providing the public services of nursing, teaching and police service. It is nonetheless true that many employees eg clerical workers, those entering the work force, those providing support services in diverse occupations from retail to sewage treatment and waste disposal are generally considered to be within the income bands who are unable to qualify for a mortgage according to figures published in the Land Registry October-December 2001 and quoted by the National Housing Federation in their press release "Where will the nurses live?" issued on 22 April 2002. As life expectancy in the population increases those retired and of pensionable age will also generate an increased demand for affordable housing. The Government's Start Homes Initiative has demonstrated the demand for affordable housing—indeed, demand has far exceeded supply.

  We recognise the contribution, and therefore responsibility, of the architecture profession, along with other professions and stakeholders, to providing housing that is affordable, safe and well designed. We also believe that well-designed affordable housing will assist the Government in achieving its objectives to:

    —  eradicate child poverty;

    —  reduce crime;

    —  improve energy efficiency; and

    —  tackle social exclusion.

  We urge the Government to commit itself to a co-ordinated approach towards housing policy, especially with bodies concerned with housing finance, to ensure greater flexibility and spread the cost of buying property over a longer period, thereby making the purchase of property less prohibitive. Better financing mechanisms can be considered—including "soft" loans or innovative financing options to make homes more affordable.

  It is important that the Government continues to address the issue of improving skills in the built environment professions to ensure that new affordable housing assists in promoting sustainability and an urban renaissance.

  The RIBA believes that the location of new hospitals and schools is vital to their success and that co-ordination is required across Government to ensure adequate infrastructure arrangements are in place, especially the provision of public transport. The most disadvantaged in society are those with the greatest dependency on public amenities. The RIBA believes that dialogue between clients and design professionals improves the performance of both. Through its Client Forum initiative it aims to achieve value for money, quality and fitness for purpose in construction projects. The Housing Forum encourages clients and architects working in the sector to understand and embrace strategic issues, to inform, influence and improve project developments.

  The RIBA believes that affordable housing "quotas" are good in theory, as a focus for ensuring affordable homes are included in major housing developments, but in practice may lead to misuse by developers, especially where there is a threshold below which it is not necessary to provide affordable housing.

  It is essential that, in designing new affordable homes, certain qualities should not be compromised—security, disabled access, proximity to amenities and sources of employment, and environmentally sustainability. These are not "add on" extras, but integral to the design of all housing, including affordable housing. Greater consideration is needed with regard to the design and location of affordable housing for the elderly.

  Some issues are perennial. The 1983 report by the Institute of Housing and Royal Institute of British Architects "Homes for the Future" affirmed that "Corrective action is not achieved overnight. The building industry takes time to respond, and the temptation will be to ease the way by promoting designs and materials that have not been properly tested and evaluated, to reduce design standards generally and to put quantity before quality."

  We would caution against reliance on pre-fabricated housing, which may seem like an attractive short term, low cost solution to the shortage of affordable housing, but which may lead to an exacerbation of urban neglect and segregation.

  The need for affordable housing reinforces the case advanced in the Urban Task Force Report, for the appointment of a single urban regeneration Minister as a central point of co-ordination across Government to implement a strategy for improving the quality of our urban environment.

  We support the appointment of a Government Task Force on Affordable Housing, to produce a co-ordinated and targeted strategy, involving key Government Departments, financial bodies and the built environment professions.

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