One of the hallmarks of this government has been its determination to push through changes even when what’s gained seems fairly modest in comparison with the effort expended and the anger created.
Fox hunting is the obvious example. So, in a minor way, are its proposals for Lifetime Homes. The communities department is contemplating a diktat forcing housebuilders to design homes that can be easily adapted to people’s needs as they get older. The idea is to require all new social housing to have turning spaces for wheelchairs by 2011 and to extended this to all housing by 2013.
In her first column for Building, housing minister Caroline Flint puts the case for the rules. She argues that people would be prepared to pay more for a home they could adapt as they age – and by 2020 one in five people will be over 65. Then there are the families with buggies, who’d appreciate extra hall room. It’s hard to fault her logic, but still it seems like one ask too many.
First, zero-carbon rules are making housebuilders rethink their product from foundation to chimney pot. Second, she could hardly have picked a worse time to raise the issue: housebuilders are having a tough enough time without forcing buyers to pay for a downstairs shower. Figures produced by the RICS calculate the cost of making these changes at about £550, but housebuilders in Scotland, where this regime is already in place, say its more like three times that amount. Third, the argument about ageing cuts both ways: if elderly folk move to a smaller place, it frees up another family home.
At the very least, housebuilders should have been consulted before the announcement. Particularly as relations between industry and government seem warmer than at any time since Maggie was at Number 10. And one last point: if we’re into homes everyone really wants irrespective of the cost, why not go the whole hog and introduce Parker Morris-style space standards for everyone?
Concentrating their minds
After what seems like an interminable amount of deliberation and wrangling, new laws to punish companies whose negligence has led to death come into force on 6 April. The unions argue that the corporate manslaughter law will have no teeth. They pushed, and rightly lost, for individual directors to be made criminally liable. This could have led to the appointment of health and safety directors whose job it was to go to jail. Clearly with 77 people having died in the industry last year, it’s an area where we need to continue to search for ways to save lives. There’s no guarantee that this law will cut accidents on site, but the potential for a £50m fine on a company turning over £1bn, or the loss of an entire year’s profit, or even the end of the company, surely has to be an incentive for bosses to get their houses in order, if they haven’t done so already.