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Homes at risk to floods and water shortages if housing and water planning rules are not urgently reformed

Homes at risk to floods and water shortages if housing and water planning rules are not urgently reformed

18th June 2018

A cross-party inquiry, published by Policy Connect and the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum on 19th June, warns that government needs to urgently implement a brand new ‘Bricks and Water’ Sustainability Code for all homes being built. As the government advances on its target to build 1.5 million new homes by 2022, properties are at risk flooding and water shortages.

The Westminster Sustainable Business Forum (WSBF) is warning that government must rethink its approach to the housebuilding agenda to include flooding and drought risks in people’s homes.

Housebuilders are also ‘frustrated’ with the current construction framework, calling for ‘consistency in standards’.

Echoing this message, Baroness McIntosh and Angela Smith MP said: “The government needs to ensure we are building the green, water-efficient, flood-resilient communities that our children and grandchildren deserve.”

WSBF recommends that a brand new ‘Bricks and Water’ Sustainability Code is implemented for a fairer, tougher and simpler planning framework supported by building regulations. This must reflect current best practice and support all developers, large and small, to deliver the very highest water efficiency and flood resilience standards.

With major cuts in the Environment Agency, Natural England and local councils, there is doubt in the capacity and independence provided by these bodies toward responsibilities for monitoring housing regulations.

As a result, WSBF also recommends the new ‘environmental watchdog’ body proposed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove is independent and has robust powers to hold government to account. It must provide leadership on water management to make things happen on the ground. It should face the Housing Ministry as well as the Environment Department to ensure that housing development is sustainable.

Download the report here

Key Facts

  • 4.48% of homes in England are currently at risk of flooding. By 2050, climate changes mean that this could rise to 2.5 million homes in total at risk of flooding.
  • At the same time there is a real risk of future water shortages - we will need an extra 4 billion litres of water every day by 2050, with projected water demand shortfalls of 22%.
  • The cost to the taxpayer of dealing with the damage caused by flooding is already over £1bn every year.
  • In the last ten years across UK 22,000 hectares of green spaces has been lost: an area of land twice the size of Liverpool has been turned from green space to hard surface.
  • The Environment Agency has suffered 19% staff cuts in the past five years, including 40% of the ‘planning and development control’ staff. Natural England’s budget has been cut 60% since 2009, losing many of its policy specialists. At a local council level, Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) are also struggling with a lack of funding and expertise.
  • Some local planning authority budgets have almost halved (46%) since 2010, and over a third (37%) of planning policy staff have been lost.
  • This inquiry is Co-Chaired by Conservative Peer Baroness McIntosh of Pickering and Labour’s Angela Smith, Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge.

The report launches today following the government's launch of a consultation on the new environmental watchdog and mounting pressure on the Prime Minister to review housebuilding policies . 

Key Quotes

Report co-chairs Angela Smith MP and Baroness McIntosh said: Building the number of homes we need has become a pressing issue - we haven’t built enough in this country for a long time. As we increase the number of new homes, we must manage water sustainably and efficiently on a catchment-scale.

WSBF’s in-depth year-long inquiry into housing, water and planning policy strongly concludes that the government needs to act now to improve guidance and standards for the houses that being built. Water is a precious resource and we must use it wisely.

The government needs to ensure we are building the green, water-efficient, flood-resilient communities that will our children and grandchildren deserve.”

Report headline sponsor Anglian Water said: “It has never been more important for Government, house builders and water companies to work together to promote and deliver water efficiency in the home. Anglian Water is leading the industry when it comes to reducing leakage and we’re well on our way to achieving our target of 95% customers on a meter. New build homes present an unrivalled opportunity when it comes to making sure that new communities are using water as efficiently as possible, with design standards and labelling offering great water saving potential. Collaboration between Government, planners, developers and water companies is essential if we are to meet this goal and we are ready to play our part.”

WSBF member Willmott Dixon said: “Willmott Dixon supports the adoption of higher building standards for water efficiency and sustainable urban drainage systems.  What is most important is the consistency of standards and requirements applied across the industry, for large and small, new and refurbished housing developments.”

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee Clive Betts MP told us: “There is currently a vacuum at the heart of the English planning system which is having profound social, economic and environmental consequences. No thought has been given to a wider view of planning which tackles cross-boundary issues for local authorities.”

Lord Best told us: “There has been an overreliance on the big eight housebuilders to deliver the housing that we need. The quality of houses that are being built isn’t good enough – purchasers are actually expecting the quality to be bad.”