Your report (Housebuilders face backlash for lobbying against disability access, 29 November) about the Home Builders Federation trying to persuade councils to stop insisting on more accessible housing is absolutely shocking, particularly in view of the profits made by companies such as Persimmon.
The simple solution is for the building regulations to be amended to make basic accessibility mandatory across the country, as it is in London. It is ridiculous to expect councils to demonstrate “need”. As the population ages, so the need for more accessible housing increases. The building regulations advisory committee is producing recommendations shortly, and I urge them to advise this course of action.
Liberal Democrat spokesperson on disability, House of Lords
• I have worked with people with disabilities all my life. I remember parents telling me how they grew strong alongside their children’s physical growth, as they continued to carry them upstairs into their teens. The relief and freedom when they were able to afford adaptations, or had them provided, were beyond measure. How cynical of greedy housebuilders to try to stem the progress towards allowing people reasonable access, even in their own homes.
• The planning system is broken. At the London launch this week of Nick Raynsford’s Review of Planning in England, speakers described demoralised councillors and planners; frustration over constant changes of policy; and anger that the system is not delivering what people want. Parish councils are at the sharp end of this failure to reform the system. Communities here in Kent and across Britain are facing the threat of opportunistic, unplanned development. Landowners and developers are exploiting the fact that it takes time to prepare, consult on and get approval for a new local plan, to bring forward applications for housing development on unsuitable sites.
Additionally, where a local authority does not have a five-year “housing supply” (an arbitrary figure and a rather nebulous concept as the number of houses in the pipeline fluctuates continually), the new national planning policy framework (NPPF) dictates that councils must grant permission, unless there are overriding reasons to refuse. A developer-led planning process, crude housing targets, no joined-up regional thinking, and flawed “consultation” has resulted in communities being pitted against each other as they try to protect the environment and their health.
The Raynsford review makes 24 recommendations to create a simpler, fairer system. These include strategic regional planning, a (limited) community right to challenge in an attempt to redress the balance of power, and a duty on local authorities to plan for high-quality and genuinely affordable homes. I hope the government will listen carefully to the arguments for reform. Change is desperately needed.
Chair, planning committee, West Malling parish council, Kent
• The housing secretary, James Brokenshire, thinks that prefab housing will help the government hit its 300,000-a-year housebuilding target (Report, 30 November). The innovation that we are seeing in modular construction is very welcome, but nobody should be under any illusions about the extent to which this will speed up supply. As repeated studies have shown, including Oliver Letwin’s recent review for the Treasury, homes are built not as fast as they can be constructed but as quickly as they can be sold at current market prices. In other words, developers do not crash their own markets: this is what delimits aggregate supply. Reducing construction costs is good but it will not solve this challenge. The principal long-run effect will only be to increase residual land values. The only way for the government to hit its 300,000 homes target is for the public sector to build what the private developers will not.
• Last month’s Guardian investigative report on the subject of bad landlords revealed that local authorities in England and Wales had failed to identify them in their databases, and Thursday’s Guardian (29 November) repeats that story. However, while the original report listed the authorities failing to register bad landlords, they were all in England. Wales has a national landlord licensing law under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, which means it is a legal requirement for a landlord to obtain a licence, and to do that they must first pass a training course. The Welsh government department which enforces this law (Rent Smart Wales) provides updates on the number of registered properties, licensed landlords and prosecutions etc, so it is misleading for the Guardian to lump together the Wales and England landlord situations, when the latter does not employ national legislation. Whether this is due to a belief that landlords in England are more important than tenants is a matter of conjecture.
Mike Elfed Williams
• Having the powers to take action against rogue landlords, but then failing to use them, is depressing news for both tenants living in sub-standard accommodation and for council tax payers in the areas where no action is being taken. Landlords who see property as an easy way of generating a regular income, while avoiding any of the responsibilities that accompany holding such assets, contribute to the decline and neglect of neighbourhoods, and divert council officers away from other tasks. With the incentive that any money raised by fines can be retained by the authority, inaction also deprives the council of much-needed cash at a difficult time. If the legislation is deficient then a cross-party group of MPs should begin a campaign to improve the law.
• Why is a fall in house prices (Report, 29 November) always treated as bad news? Whether house prices rise or fall there will be winners and losers, but a fall in house prices will benefit poor people and first-time buyers. Surely that’s good news?
Dr Dennis Hawkins
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