Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

James Parker looks at what we can do to improve the quality and sustainability of our housing stock

For a profession which affects so many people’s lives, arguably more than most others, the housebuilding industry is a strikingly under-regulated one.

Doctors have a distinctly profound effect on their clients, namely (normally) improving how their bodies function.

With such a major impact on peoples’s everyday life, it’s no wonder that they are so tightly regulated. A GP has to train for eight years in total before they are fully qualified.

No pain, no gain as they say

James Parker James Parker Editor of Housebuilder & Developer

Health and housing

The houses people live in, for example in terms of how well they regulate moisture, or deal with overheating, can have a major impact on the health of occupants.

The part that builders have to play therefore in ensuring people live healthy lives may be severely underestimated when compared with GPs, but arguably they have an even bigger role, given they are at the ‘cause’ end of good health or otherwise, whereas doctors only treat the symptoms.   

Although not immediately aware of the effect on them physically, homeowners may be acutely aware of how build quality can severely dent their financial health.

Homes can be built shoddily and need endless snagging issues addressing, or leak energy over time due to a lack of tackling junctions properly.

But more important (yet seemingly obvious) is the fact that the first duty of a house construction must be that it’s a safe place to live in.

Doctors are required to prove they are equipped to undertake work safely, why not builders?

Mandatory licensing  

As was pointed out a recent event at the House of Lords, staged by the Federation of Master Builders, “anyone can set themselves up as builder, tomorrow.” 

As a result of a longstanding wish to introduce better quality standards and raise the bar to entering the industry, the FMB (which flies the flag for good SME builders) has teamed up with a bunch of bodies to create a robust and more importantly mandatory licensing scheme for housebuilders.

A Task Force has been assembled including the Association of Consultancy and Engineering, the British Property Federation, the Chartered Institute of Building, Construction Products Assocation, Building Control, RICS, TrustMark and Which?, alongside the FMB.

This heavy-hitting body has the ear of MPs (partly as a result of the FMB’s sterling work lobbying Parliament), and hopes to introduce legislation soon that will prove this is far from just a talking shop.

Liz Peace, who chairs the Task Force, commented that “quality and professionalism is in some areas falling short. What we’re trying to do is increase protection for the ordinary person who engages with the construction sector.”

According to FMB research, a third of homeowners are avoiding commissioning work completely due to worries about the quality of service they may receive.”

The need for new firms

The FMB believes most of the industry will welcome this move towards a mandatory bar that firms must jump over before they can begin selling their services.

At the same time however, the industry is facing a huge post-recession shortage of (particularly SME) building firms, as it confronts the Government’s stated aim of 300,000 houses per year by the mid-2020s.

Bars to entry to the industry such as well-intentioned regulation need to be very carefully designed so they don’t put new firms off entering the industry at all.

Reforms definitely needed

The Public Accounts Committee’s report on housing this week stated that the Government’s ambitious targets were being hampered by local authorities failing to deliver housing plans, and that developments were being held up by lack of infrastructure.

While many housebuilders are struggling to build the homes called for, regulation isn’t going to be well received by all. However no pain, no gain as they say.

But when anyone can build a house without any qualifications, potentially posing a risk to the occupants, how big a risk are we running as a country in the rush to put up as many homes as possible?

Surely we need to recognise that this is an industry desperately in need of reform, and that we can’t rely on professionalism to be widespread without some policing.

James Parker is editor of Housebuilder and Developer