New Build Homes Standards: North Yorkshire

– in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 18 April 2024.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Robert Largan.)

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 4:59, 18 April 2024

May I start by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and, through you, Mr Speaker for granting me this debate? I value the opportunity to raise issues during this Adjournment debate. Perhaps no one values that more than Jim Shannon, who is usually a fixture at these moments, but has sent his apologies for not being here today.

I have mentioned the new housing developments and estates being built across Harrogate and Knaresborough in the House before. Indeed, I have been running a “fair deal for new estates” campaign, the essence of which is to ensure new estates are finished in a timely way. Within “fair deal” I mean both the length of time involved and the quality of work by house builders. The campaign has been running for over a year. It started when residents in new build properties came to me to seek support for the problems they were having with their new homes. I was, of course, extremely happy to help with their cases and take them up on their behalf with house builders. I have made visits to see the issues at first hand, and corresponded and met with house builders.

There are too many individual cases to detail in this debate. We are talking about over 200 cases located across Harrogate, Knaresborough and some surrounding villages, so the issue is not limited to a specific geography. The developments include King’s Croft, Garten Close, Harlow Green, Swincliffe Mews and others. There are a great variety of issues, both in range and severity, but they can be divided into two groups: issues with individual properties and estate-wide issues.

Estate-wide issues cover matters such as drainage, road surfacing, street lighting, street signage and play areas, or simply being a good neighbour during the final build-out of an estate by keeping roads as clean as possible, and making consideration for delivery times and the types of vehicles used. I have had complaints about how long it has been taking to finish estates and how the focus can seem to move on when much of an estate has been sold. One issue that is regularly raised is about drainage for open spaces, play areas or individual homes. I have seen blocked drains, as well as standing water significant enough to reach front doors and threaten to flood individual properties, which is very worrying for residents. Equally, I have seen huge excavations and remedial work from house builders, indicating that they have been taking action and showing how much work is required to put things right.

On issues facing individual properties, we must remember that a new home is not just a financial transaction, but a major step in anyone’s life. It is emotional and exciting, but moving house can also be stressful. However, it should not be the start of a long chain of dealings with the house builder to correct problems. Issues raised with me range from totally inadequate guttering to very patchy fitting of insulation, from window panes separating from their frames to poorly fitted bannisters, and from walls having to be rebuilt to bathrooms having to be taken out and replacements fitted. That is just a snapshot because the list is long.

I have been dealing with a number of different house building companies, national and local, large and small, including Taylor Wimpey, Avant Homes and Harron Homes. This debate is about speaking up for individuals, but it is possible to draw some themes together because there are some common elements, which I will highlight. The first is to get it right first time. Residents know that there are likely to be some snags when they move into a new build—people are sensible and they are practical. But that is not what I am talking about: in some cases the sheer number and scale of them have simply been wrong. One resident forwarded his list to me, and it was more than 200 items long. Then there is the severity of the problems. I have met residents who have had whole bathrooms taken out and refitted, or who have had to totally move out of their property during remedial work, with all the disruption that that brings. I am thinking of one case where that is especially true because they have a young family.

Another common problem has been the way that customers have been dealt with during this process, which has been a source of deep frustration. Residents have reported challenges contacting customer services. The frequency of staff changes has been cited, which means that been no continuity of understanding of the issues raised. Also cited is the need for house builders to be more proactive in their communications. That basically means getting information out to everyone about what is happening and when—keeping people informed. I have raised this point with house builders and, in all cases, they have recognised that there have been communication problems—no one has attempted to deny it—and, indeed, they have sought to correct them. In some cases this has meant a new customer service helpline for a development, and in other cases it has meant more senior oversight of outstanding issues.

I mentioned at the start of my speech that the time taken to solve problems has been too long. Again, to be fair to all, some cases have been resolved quickly, but I can think of places where some residents have been living for three years that have yet to see a finished road surface or a finished open space. That is simply too long.

When I started this “fair deal for new estates” campaign it was specifically to support constituents in Harrogate, Knaresborough and the surrounding villages, but I have also been contacted by a number colleagues from right across the House who have been experiencing similar problems in their constituencies too. This problem is obviously much more widespread and is perhaps something for the ministerial team to consider.

I am absolutely sure that we need more new housing in this country, but winning the argument for it means that houses are delivered in a way that enhances communities and where the build quality is high. Harrogate, Knaresborough and the surrounding villages are hugely desirable places in which to live. We have a strong economy, quality services, a high quality of life and a powerful sense of community. It is not therefore surprising that the demand and need for housing is high, but this is all about getting it right for residents.

I have been happy to take up cases and urge anyone struggling with issues in their new build to get in touch with me as I will be happy to help them. That is about issue resolution and that is obviously important, but I also want to ask how we ensure that we do not have issues to resolve in the first place. How do we ensure that we get things right first time?

I have a few requests for my hon. Friend the Minister in his Department’s dealings and conversations with the sector. How is quality monitored? Can the new homes ombudsman play a bigger role? There is a new homes quality code, which details 10 fundamental principles that registered developers have to follow, but what happens if a developer is not registered and if the principles are not followed?

One challenge raised by house builders has been difficulties in getting the skills they need in the workforce. They have experienced a shortage of people with the necessary skills. That is quite a common feature in an economy that has been strong in job creation. Can more be done to develop a supply chain of skills via apprenticeships? I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has strong views about apprenticeships. This important point applies not just to house builders but to their suppliers. I have had several conversations in which supplier failure has been cited, and a change of supplier has led to a problem being resolved.

Looking further ahead, I know that the Government are working on future homes and building standards, particularly around energy efficiency, microgeneration and insulation, and that is positive work. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister could update the House. Basically, I want to see more people own their own quality home and experience a happy future when they move in.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 5:10, 18 April 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Jones for securing this important debate. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety has asked me to offer him a meeting to discuss these matters in greater detail.

As a fellow Yorkshireman, born and bred, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough shares my enormous pride in representing a constituency in God’s own country. I have huge respect for his tireless work over the years to promote the interests of the hard-working people and families of north Yorkshire. His constituency, like mine, is made up of strong communities that are proud of their past and aspirational for their future, which he and I know must be built on a bedrock of good-quality housing—safe, warm, decent, affordable homes that provide the solid foundation that people need to get on in life and unlock their potential.

Good homes hold the key to our plans to level up opportunity across Yorkshire and around the country, while helping our local economies to grow. That is why I am proud to support the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety in delivering those homes through our long-term plan for housing, with 2.5 million new homes built in total since 2010, 180,000 of which are in Yorkshire and the Humber.

However, as my hon. Friend rightly said, the standard of some new builds, and the estates that they are part of, are simply not up to scratch. Like him, I have heard of cases where developers are moving on to new projects before the places that they are building are properly finished, leaving residents to deal with the extensive snagging or to live in limbo on unadopted roads, such as those in the estates that he mentioned. That is not fair, not right, and frankly not on.

While recognising that most new developments across the country are already of a decent standard, constructed by the many good building firms operating nationwide, we are clear that more needs to be done to address homebuyers’ concerns where standards have fallen short. We have been taking action to ensure that happens: reforming building control as part of the biggest changes to the construction sector in a generation; and strengthening warranties to give homebuyers greater protection.

My hon. Friend asked how my Department monitors quality in our work with the sector, and whether the new homes ombudsman will play a bigger role. I am pleased to tell him that quality is at the heart of our plans, from the future homes standards to our work to improve redress with the new homes ombudsman, which once launched will help to drive up quality across the industry. My hon. Friend also asked what happens if a developer is not registered with the new homes quality code. The new homes quality code is voluntary, but through the Building Safety Act 2022 we legislated so that we can bring forward a single code of conduct, which will be statutory. That was also recommended in the recent Competition and Markets Authority report, to which we will soon publish our response.

My hon. Friend asked about the shortage of relevant skills in the workforce and whether apprenticeships can help to address it. As a former apprentice, that subject is close to my heart, as I know it is to his. That is why I am delighted to tell him that we are already working to boost skills training across the industry by fully funding, for young people up to the age of 21, new apprenticeships working for small businesses, and that we have amended the apprenticeship levy so that small and medium-sized enterprises will have greater opportunities to develop the skills that the industry needs.

My hon. Friend requested an update on future homes and building standards, particularly in relation to energy efficiency. I can tell him that from next year, the future homes standard will ensure that all new homes produce, on average, upwards of 75% less carbon dioxide emissions than those built to the 2013 requirement. Through the work of our new Building Safety Regulator—introduced under the Building Safety Act 2022—we are improving construction standards across the industry.

Let me directly address some of the constituency matters that my hon. Friend raised. Local authorities can use section 106 planning obligations to secure a commitment from developers to provide appropriate facilities for new build projects such as those he mentioned, including play areas, roads and drainage. It is up to developers and local planning authorities to agree matters relating to the timing and funding of delivery, and it is right that local authorities retain such decisions.

In the meantime, we are working with the building industry to ensure that it takes this issue seriously. Ultimately, it is private developers, not the state, that hold the key to raising standards. Only by local and central Government working together with developers can we ensure that new homes being built in Yorkshire and across the country are safe, decent, warm and finished to a high standard, and that buyers in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere are treated fairly. We must all play our part to ensure that that happens.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.