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Housing Target Rush Has Come at the Expense of Residents and the Environment

In the Government's enthusiasm to get houses built quickly, residents risk missing out on sustainable communities. According to the Sustainable Development Commission (), the Government's independent watchdog, current delivery of the housing programme SDC still involves unnecessarily high levels of demolition of people's homes, builds on severely water-stressed areas, fails to get local facilities and public transport for residents on time, and does not yet take full account of climate change.

Based on site visits and interviews with local authorities, developers and residents, the SDC report assesses whether the Government has delivered on its promise to create sustainable communities. The SDC is hugely encouraged by the way in which CLG Ministers are now addressing sustainability issues, and the report identifies some impressive pockets of good practice. But overall the SDC finds that few communities built so far are living up to the promise of being environmentally sensitive, well-connected, thriving and inclusive.

According to SDC research:

  • Housing growth is taking place in severely water-stressed areas. There are serious concerns about whether these areas will be able to cope with increased demand

  • There is still a significant amount of undeveloped land being used for new houses

  • Despite a shift in Government policy, there are still plans for extensive demolition of occupied homes in the North and the Midlands. This can break up communities, destroy built heritage and create significant waste

  • Government has made real progress on climate change with its pledge that new homes will be zero carbon in 10 years' time. But the Government needs to offset carbon from now until 2016 by drastically cutting emissions from existing houses

  • A lack of co-ordination means that some communities are left without vital facilities, convenient bus routes, shops, community centres, and parks when residents move in

  • Residents report that some new community designs are causing tension by creating a distinct divide between private and affordable housing

  • Consultation with residents about plans for their homes has often been poor

  • The Government's current focus on house-building alone will not lead to the much-needed regeneration of Midlands and the North

Rebecca Willis, Vice-Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, says:
"People want safe, attractive and affordable places to live. Despite the Government's good intentions, our research shows that new communities aren't always coming up to scratch.

"There's still a huge opportunity for Government to get this right. The priority must be to turn our existing communities into eco-towns. Communities can be green and prosperous, with well-planned public transport and great facilities. But the Government must learn from past mistakes and put residents' needs before commercial interests and housing targets."

The SDC report concludes that the Government must:

  • Connect new housing with existing communities, rather than sprawling into undeveloped land. This will help to regenerate existing communities and improve job prospects

  • Remove the current incentive for developers to demolish people's homes (zero VAT on new build versus 17.5% VAT on refurbishment) by equalizing VAT

  • Ratchet up standards for water and energy efficiency measures, e.g. by installing water meters and high quality insulation in all homes

  • Significantly improve co-ordination of long-term funding, so that residents get access to vital services and public transport on time

  • Plan for high quality, well-maintained green spaces, such as sports areas, community gardens and parks, in all new communities

  • Consult residents extensively about the future of their communities as a matter of course

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