Environmental Audit Committee

30 April 2004 New Enquiry

30 April 2004 New Enquiry

Housing:  Building a Sustainable Future?

The Treasury and ODPM set up the Barker Review in April 2003 to consider the issues underlying the lack of supply and responsiveness of housing in the UK, in particular:

• the role of competition, capacity, technology and financing of the housebuilding industry; and

• the interaction of these factors with the planning system and the Government's sustainable development objectives.

The Treasury published the conclusions of the Barker Review in March 2004. These suggested that to bring down the real price increase in the cost of housing in the UK from an average of 2.4 per cent per annum over the last 30 years to be in line with the EU increase of 1.1 per cent per annum over the same period, an extra 120,000 houses each year would need to be built in England. This recommendation takes as a baseline the level of private sector build in 2002-03 of 140,000 gross starts and 125,000 gross completions.

Implementation of this level of construction, of at least 245,000 new houses a year across England, in conjunction with existing commitments to build in areas such as the Thames Gateway, Milton Keynes, Ashford and Cambridge, would have significant environmental implications. It raises concerns about many issues including land use, materials and the long term impacts on the environment of locating and building new housing.

In view of the above, the Environmental Audit Committee is concerned to consider how any future building programmes can be made truly sustainable and take full account of environmental objectives. It is therefore launching an inquiry to look into the environmental implications of the Barker Review in particular, and Government policy for sustainable housing in general. The Committee is particularly concerned about the Review's suggestion that economic considerations with regard to new housing may have to over-rule environmental objectives.

Some of the issues of specific concern to the Committee are outlined below. However the Committee would be grateful for submissions on any other matters that respondents consider relevant.

• Are the conclusions of the Barker Review compatible with the general principles of sustainable development and the Government's own sustainable development objectives?

• In view of the Barker Review is there are need for an overarching national strategy to ensure that the environment is at the heart of any building programme?

• Is the current planning system robust enough to ensure that the environmental implications of building projects are fully taken into account? How can the planning system be used to increase the building of more sustainable housing? Would the proposed changes to the planning system in the Barker Review have a positive or negative effect on the environment?

• Where will the proposed new housing be built? What are the implications for land-use and flood risk of the large-scale proposed building projects?

• Is it possible to ensure materials and resources used, and waste produced, during building do not have a harmful impact on the environment?

• Are the building regulations as they stand capable of ensuring that new housing is truly sustainable in the long term? How could they be improved? Could greater use be made of existing environmental standards for housing?

• How will it be possible to ensure a sustainable infrastructure, including transport and water supply, which will be necessary to support any extensive house building, is put in place?

• Do those involved in housing supply, both in the public and private sector, have the necessary skills and training to ensure new housing meets environmental objectives? If not, how can the knowledge base of those involved in the planning and building process be improved?

Written evidence should be sent to the Committee by Wednesday 26th May 2004, preferably by e-mail to [email protected] (with a hard copy by post). A brief guidance note on the preparation and submission of evidence is available on the Committee's web pages.  For further information on the Committee's inquiry, please telephone 020-7219-4102.

Notes for editors

The Committee's previous reports can be found on its website.