ENGLAND: House ‘recycling’ rate is too low

Housing Minister Nick Raynsford has endorsed a report that says between 18,000 and 26,500 new homes could be created each year in England if more existing properties were converted and redeveloped.

Conversion and Redevelopment: Processes and Potential concludes that the greatest number of suitable buildings are found in town centres in southern England, particularly in Greater London.

“We would have said that the figures in the report are an underestimate,” Ashley Horsey, chief executive of the Empty Homes Agency (EHA), told edie. Nonetheless, the EHA welcomes the study, especially if it provides more ammunition for incentives and policies that will back ‘recycling’ of existing buildings.

Minister Raynsford claims the study proves that the Government is on the right track with its planning guidance advice on housing, PPG3, which emphasises bringing into use empty properties and the conversion of existing buildings.

Horsey thinks Raynsford is tooting the Government’s horn too loudly. “Our view is that PPG3 is good, but it’s aspirational. The Government needs to introduce other policies in order to turn the ideas in PPG3 into action.”

Highest on the list is ‘VAT harmonisation’ for housing development – removing VAT from development of brownfield sites or conversion of existing properties and adding VAT to development on greenfields (see separate story in this edition of edie news). Also high on the EHA’s wish list is making it a statutory duty of local authorities to identify and produce a plan for reducing the number of empty properties in their jurisdictions – in much the same way local authorities now take responsibility for contaminated land. “A lot of local authorities are already doing this, but a lot aren’t,” says Horsey. “For some, a statutory duty will be necessary before any action is taken.”

Overall, Horsey is worried that the slow progress in housing policy reform and the failure of the Treasury to back up what the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) has managed to do thus far, raises uncertainty about how powerful the DETR is within Government.

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