Is this the end of the road for Section 106?

The Government wants to replace Section 106 with a new Infrastructure Levy

Section 106 agreements could be scrapped if the Government’s planning reforms go ahead. The White Paper Planning for the Future published in August sets out radical change to the way new developments are delivered. One of the most controversial is the plan to throw out Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy. Instead, there will be one Infrastructure Levy to be set nationally and charged for every development above a certain value. The new levy will be paid on occupation of the site and the Government thinks it’s a better solution than the two separate obligations formerly placed on developers.

Not everyone agrees. The White Paper is focused heavily on the benefits of this change for housing delivery – obviously very important. But the new levy won’t be like for like and critics say it won’t fulfil all the functions of, or be as flexible in use, as the existing system.

As law and tax specialist CMS points out in a well-argued discussion of the planned changes, “Section 106 is an incredibly flexible tool… that can cater for changing circumstances and unknowns at the time of grant of permission in order to maximise or tailor affordable housing and other commitments to best suit the local community, environment or market as it evolves during the lifetime of the development”.

The planned reforms have the all-important financial contributions from developers and affordable housing in their sights. We can all agree that these are vital. But what about the other aspects of development that Section 106 deals with? What happens to the obligation to consider management of open space and community facilities, road improvements, local employment and training, education, health facilities, and community assets?

And what about other, perhaps less obvious issues such as linking new developments, setting occupancy controls for specialist forms of housing, noise mitigation, carbon reduction and habitat offsetting. All these are often part of Section 106 agreements too.

Grampian conditions to planning permissions – which prevent the start of a development until off-site works have been completed on land not controlled by the developer – could still be used and the new Infrastructure Levy would provide the funding. But the key point here, as CMS highlights, is that there is no guarantee that off-site infrastructure will be put in place. Instead, this will be left to the discretion of local authorities.

With ever-tightening purse strings post-pandemic, local authorities may not have these funds at their disposal. This lack of joined-up thinking can only be to the detriment of the many housing developments that the Government is putting at the top of its wishlist.

We wait with interest to see how Parliament responds to this White Paper – and how the industry reacts in turn. To read it in full go to https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future

www.ringley.co.uk
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Leaseholders – beware fake EWS1 forms

Property managers must be extremely vigilant when dealing with EWS1 forms

Another scandal of potentially epic proportions is unfolding around dangerous cladding. This time leaseholders are being targetted with fake EWS1 forms.

As if the problem of proving that buildings are safe isn’t already serious enough, now fake External Wall System or EWS1 forms are being used by scammers, misleading residents, and their mortgage companies over whether or not residential blocks are clad in dangerous materials. According to Which? in a report published on 26 August, “Leaseholders are being duped into paying thousands of pounds to fraudsters faking inspection forms amid concerns over fire safety”.

This is extremely serious. It has major implications for flat owners and their property managers and for mortgage and insurance companies who are at risk of acting upon false information. Leaseholders’ mortgages and insurance policies could be voided if their forms are found to have been faked – to say nothing of flat owners being fleeced for the expense of forms that are worth nothing and for surveys that haven’t been carried out.

 The consumer watchdog says it has evidence that at least one firm has issued fake EWS1 forms to a number of blocks across the country. Which? claims the forged forms (that are used to confirm whether a building contains materials that carry an increased fire risk) may also have been used to contract out thousands of pounds worth of remediation work. The report alleges that scammers have forged the names and signatures of qualified surveyors to pass and fail buildings. “Some forms we’ve seen have been signed off by surveyors who simply don’t exist,” says Which?  In another case, “cladding technicians without the necessary qualifications” have also apparently signed off EWS1 forms.

Which? thinks these fake forms could be used “to tender millions of pounds worth of construction work and fire safety measures to linked companies with vested interests”.

If true, this is a major problem for leaseholders. Many residents around the country are in the process of trying to sell flats in blocks that are potentially at-risk. They need these forms to be signed off in order to prove the safety of their buildings. If they are being falsified, then the whole process of finding, funding and remediating blocks with dangerous external wall systems could be put at risk. Leaseholders have suffered enough pain during this process, without adding insult to injury.

Leaseholders are already the blameless victims of the cladding crisis. Property managers should be aware of the dangers posed by falsified documents and must be extremely vigilant. They are at the sharp end of the EWS1 process and very high standards of due diligence will be needed to check that cladding specialists are who they say they are.

Read the full Which? report here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/08/scammers-hijack-ews1-process-with-fake-cladding-inspection-forms/

 www.ringley.co.uk
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Surface water flooding – could you be at risk?

Is your home at risk from surface water flooding?

Could surface water flooding affect your home? It only seems five minutes since we were all complaining about the heat and already we have seen extreme weather result in flash floods in parts of the country. Surface water flooding, as opposed to rivers bursting their banks after sustained rainfall, is a risk to an estimated three million homes around the country. This type of flooding normally happens after heavy thunderstorms or rainfall when the volume of rainwater is such that it does not drain away or soak into the ground. What makes it worse is that due to its localised nature, it is very difficult to predict.

So the government is trying to tackle the problem with an independent review aimed at reducing the risk of surface water flooding across England and has announced it will implement 12 of its recommendations without delay. These will build on the existing Surface Water Management Action Plan.

The review highlights a number of ways in which the risks from surface water flooding could be more effectively managed, and it makes clear who is responsible for constructing and maintaining drainage systems – which is crucial in managing flood risk.

The recommendations aim to improve clarity over roles and responsibilities, ensure flood investigation reports take into account the views of residents and businesses and that lessons learned are shared widely. It also recommends that better advice is made available to homes and businesses at risk of surface water flooding to help them improve their own protection and resilience.

It is also good to hear that £1.2 billion is being invested in a state-of-the-art supercomputer to improve severe weather and climate forecasting which will help to more accurately predict storms. Let’s hope it doesn’t suffer from the kind of problems that too often beset government IT projects. There will also be changes in how funding is allocated to flood protection projects. The aim here is to enable surface water flooding protection schemes to qualify for more funding.

So good news for anyone whose home is likely to be at risk. But in the meantime, there are things that residents can do to protect themselves and their property, even from flash flooding. First, make sure you have buildings and contents insurance policies that provide flood cover. Second, talk to your property manager about emergency procedures in your block if there is a likelihood of it being affected by floodwater. And last but not least, make sure you know how to access the environment agency’s flood warning service. This may not always be able to predict surface water flooding but it should help to flag up areas that may be at risk. You can sign up for this free service here https://www.gov.uk/sign-up-for-flood-warnings

An emergency bag under the bed or at the back of the wardrobe may sound daft but if you’re in a flood risk area it is a sensible precaution to take. Click here for some ideas as to what it should contain https://floodassist.co.uk/articles/preparing-an-emergency-flood-kit

We all hope the worst will never happen and the government is taking action to tackle flooding from all sources, but with more extreme weather being faced around the world, as people living on the Louisiana coast are finding out this morning, it is important to be prepared.

www.ringley.co.uk
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What will the homes of the future look like?

Will the homes of the future look like this?

The homes of the future. Ever wondered what they might look like? We have. And over the weekend we were given a glimpse of the kinds of houses we may find ourselves living in by 2030, as the finalists of the Home of 2030 competition were announced by the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher.

The 6 finalists and their designs are:

  • The Positive Collective (changebuilding Perpendicular Architecture & humblebee) with ECOSystems Technologies, COCIS, and Arup: Homes that seek to reduce carbon emissions and encourage social interaction, including through food grown in communal spaces and areas such as ponds to promote biodiversity.
  • HLM Architects with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and Green Build: Homes built using interchangeable parts with other homes, creating a circular economy in which little is wasted.
  • Igloo Regeneration with Useful Projects, Expedition Engineers, and Mawson Kerr Architects: Homes with simple frame structures and standardised components set amidst walkable, vibrant neighbourhoods.
  • Openstudio Architects Ltd: Three building elements (a standardised housing module, an open ‘Loft’ and a circulation, storage, and shared module) are used in combination with 3 landscape elements (communal green space, small private gardens or upper-level balconies and terraces, and front gardens) to create combinations of sustainable, age-friendly spaces.
  • Outpost Architects and team: Janus, a home constructed from 98% organic biomass material (primarily timber and straw).
  • Studio OPEN: Promoting community and caring for others through a central garden shared between 4 homes that are built with locally sourced materials and timber construction methods to reduce environmental impact.

The Home of 2030 competition was launched in March to encourage the design of environmentally friendly homes that will meet the needs of people as they age so they can continue to lead independent, fulfilling lives.  It is part of a government drive to improve the standard of housing in the UK and sits alongside the planning reforms we blogged about yesterday.

A winner will be chosen this autumn and together with other selected finalists, they will be introduced to Homes England development partners to explore the possibility of developing bids for a series of homes on Homes England land.

The six finalists have each received £40,000 of funding to help them develop detailed plans. The ultimate aim is to make tree-lined streets the norm and to ‘beautify’ housing developments as well as building new ‘zero carbon ready’ homes that will not require any future retrofitting. It’s a big ambition. We have ten years to wait and see if this competition will help to fulfil it.

www.ringley.co.uk
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Planning reforms will deliver more new homes – but is there trouble ahead?

The latest planning reforms aim to get Britain building

As if one algorithm hasn’t caused enough problems in the last few weeks, now the government is facing criticism of another one. This time planning reforms are in the frame. Under recent changes to the planning laws sent out for consultation on 6 August, the government proposes to allocate the 337,000 a year new homes target among local authorities, which will then need to find the land to meet their quota.

Sounds reasonable so far. There is no question that we need more housing and there is plenty of suitable building land available. However, the problem – as with the recent exam grades fiasco – is with the government’s “levelling up” promise. This time its pledge to help more disadvantaged parts of the country rather than pupils is under scrutiny.

According to analysis carried out by planning consultancy Lichfields and reported in The Times today, the algorithm being used to do the calculations of housing need seems to be focusing development on the suburbs and the countryside, rather than in towns and cities where there is brownfield land aplenty and the opportunity to create new housing in inventive ways. In addition, because of the algorithm’s emphasis on affordability, it seems that new housing is likely to be built predominantly in London and the South East while cities in the Midlands and the north of England could end up with fewer new homes than in the last three years.

In Leicester, Lichfields estimates that housebuilding would fall by 32%, in direct contrast to a rise of 51% in Leicestershire as a whole; in Nottingham, it would fall by 22%, whereas for the rest of the county it would rise by 38.7%; and in Liverpool, the number of new homes being built could fall by as much as 59%.

Neil O’Brien, the Tory MP for Harborough in Leicestershire, told The Times today: “Lots of our large cities have brownfield land and capacity to take more housing and it seems strange when planning to ‘level up’ to be levelling down their housing targets to rates even lower than they have been delivering”.

We agree. Not only is it vital to build homes where they are most needed but the government could find itself in another fix as it tries to explain to Conservative voters in the south East – who historically are prone to nimbyism – why they should put up with yet more new housing being built on their doorstep, while large Labour-run cities elsewhere in the country are given much lower targets to meet.

Lessons really should have been learned in the last few weeks about the dangers of using mass calculations. This is another example of where an algorithm needs to be carefully scrutinised before it is put into action.

To read the Government consultation in full go to https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future

www.ringley.co.uk
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Are you a Glomad or a Rusticarian?

Rural lifestyles are growing in popularity post-Covid

Here’s a bit of Friday fun for you – are you a Glomad or a Rusticarian? Real estate specialist Strutt and Parker has been looking at ways that shifting attitudes to housing and co-habitation post-Covid could change the housing market –not only affecting our reasons for moving, but actively steering what it is we look for in a home. So they’ve identified five homebuying groups and predicted how they might respond to the new landscape.

Glomads: Also known as the rental generation, this group is identified by their hesitation to define one place as home, preferring instead to have the option of travelling, working remotely, and keeping their possessions minimal. The Glomad population is expected to expand in the wake of Coronavirus, encouraged by a new-found willingness among businesses to offer remote working.

Onesies: Pre-pandemic, 41% of UK households were made up of single individuals choosing to live alone. However, the long-term reality of isolation has the potential to cause huge changes among this demographic, with singletons taking up co-housing arrangements and embarking on new co-living situations.

Sundowners: 14.5 million people in the UK are over 65 – 20% of the population. This is the generation that Strutt and Parker often see looking to downsize, releasing equity for their retirement. Co-housing arrangements during lockdown, including older family members welcoming younger generations home to isolate, may see this age group reconsidering the importance of the family home, holding onto their properties, or even encouraging cohabitation in the future.

Waltons: The multigenerational household, while far from idealised in the pre-lockdown society, could potentially prove a new route for Sundowners, who may now be more open to co-housing with younger generations of their family.

Rusticarians: Driven by environmental and technological factors, these diverse countryside dwellers are more open to less conventional housing and non-traditional locations.The impacts of Covid-19 have sparked a renewed interest in the rural lifestyle, with an increasing number of people looking to settle in community-led environments. Combined with a significant rise in homeworking, there is undoubtedly huge potential for this group to grow in the post-Covid world.

Strutt and Parker also expects to see changes to the way homes are designed to accommodate these new lifestyles. For larger, open-plan homes, ‘broken-plan living’ is looking to become a growing interior trend – retaining the sense of space created by open-plan design, while incorporating semi-divisions such as partial walls, kitchen islands, freestanding fireplaces or glass partitions. This establishes different settings within the home, so allowing households to co-exist in the same space whilst maintaining privacy.

In smaller homes, or for homes naturally divided into smaller spaces, multifunctional rooms can be used to create more adaptable homes – kitchens with islands doubling as workstations, or guest bedrooms that can be transformed into gyms or offices as required. In a world where flexibility is becoming ever-more essential to functional living, multipurpose spaces can allow us to comfortably adapt to whatever changes might appear on the horizon.

Integrated technology is set to become a permanent feature as our homes must increasingly be well connected to the outside world, and already Strutt and Parker are seeing schemes fast-tracked in accordance with our changing dependence on home living spaces.

The next few years will be certainly interesting from a housing perspective. So where do we go from here – what do you think?

www.ringley.co.uk
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Green Homes Grant Scheme – why quality really does matter

Quality assurance will be key to consumer confidence.
Image supplied by speedpropertybuyers.co.uk/

The Green Homes Grant Scheme was announced in July. It promises homeowners and landlords in England vouchers covering a proportion of the cost of upgrading their homes to make them more energy-efficient. The aim is not only to improve the country’s ageing housing stock and help people keep their energy bills down but also to protect jobs in the trades sector as we start to feel the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

The new scheme will see the government fund up to two-thirds of the cost of home improvements of an estimated 600,000 homes.  The new vouchers are worth up to £5,000 for homeowners but households on low incomes will be eligible for vouchers covering the whole cost of improvements, up to a maximum of £10,000.

Green Homes Grants will give homeowners, including owner-occupiers and social/private landlords, vouchers to install one or more of the following:

  • solid wall, under-floor, cavity wall or roof insulation
  • air source or ground source heat pump
  • solar thermal

Vouchers can also be used for further energy-saving measures including one or more of:

  • double or triple glazing/secondary glazing, when replacing single glazing
  • upgrading to energy-efficient doors
  • hot water tank/appliance tank thermostats/heating controls

But it’s not so long ago that a similar Green Deal scheme, launched in 2013 to provide loans to improve domestic energy efficiency, turned out to be a dismal failure. According to press reports based on findings by the official auditors the initiative, abandoned in 2015, cost taxpayers nearly £400m and did not deliver energy or carbon savings. So what is being done differently this time around?

The difference with the Green Homes Grant seems to be that attention is now being paid to quality assurance – and rightly so. Consumer confidence will be key to its success. So builders, plumbers, and other tradespeople will need a government-backed seal of approval to provide their services. They must register for TrustMark or Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accreditation to take part in the £2 billion programme.

Once the scheme kicks off, anyone who wants to take advantage of the Green Homes Grant will be able to get advice from the Simple Energy Advice (SEA) service. SEA will suggest home improvements that homeowners could make that will fit the grant criteria. They will then be offered a list of approved TrustMark and MCS registered tradespeople in their local area to carry out the work. Once the works are agreed, vouchers will start to be issued from the end of September.

Of course the big question everyone will be asking is, how much money could I save? The Government says this. For the installation of cavity wall and floor insulation in a semi or end-terrace house at a cost of around £4,000, the homeowner would pay just £1,320 – with the government paying £2,680. This could save the owner more than £200 on their annual energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint by cutting 700 kg of CO2 a year from their home alone.

So if the scheme works as it is intended to, there could be substantial savings to be made – up to £600 a year on average. Good news all round we think.

www.ringley.co.uk
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E-signing to transform homebuying

Homebuyers can wave goodbye to pen-and-ink signatures with new e-signing option

E-signing could be about to transform homebuying. E-signing of documents has come into its own during the pandemic but there still have been some situations where an electronic signature is not acceptable. However, as the old saying goes necessity is the mother of invention. So today HM Land Registry has announced it is now able to accept electronic signatures for a number of important property transactions.

In another move aimed at boosting the housing market transfers of ownership of property, leases, mortgages and other property dealings can now be signed electronically. The hope is that this will make it simpler and quicker for people to move home.

From today HM Land Registry will accept ‘witnessed electronic signatures’ in place of wet-ink. These make it possible to sign legal documents remotely, although a witness who is present at the time must counter-sign the documents electronically too.

This signals the removal of the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction. This will help homebuyers during the current health emergency while lots of people are working at home, but the Land Registry also sees it as “a keystone of a truly digital, secure and more efficient conveyancing process that we believe is well within reach”. Good news, we think. Especially as the next step is to also look at the possibility of using qualified electronic signatures – which won’t require a witness. Instead, this type of E-signature relies on using a ‘Qualified Trust Service Provider’ which will have standards in place to securely verify the identity of the signatory and the Land Registry is already exploring their introduction as soon as it becomes practical to do so.

At Ringley we’ve been using E-signing for a wide range of documents for some time. This technology has certainly made life easier for both our staff and our customers during the last few months, so we welcome today’s announcement. It should bring conveyancing firmly into the 21st century. We are also pleased to hear that work is also going on to improve security around E-signing.  The Government is exploring whether the digital identity checking technology used in other sectors could also be used in the conveyancing industry to increase resilience against fraud and improve the ease of buying and selling. If they get this right, we think this is good news all round for homebuyers, vendors and their property and legal advisers. What do you think?

Click here to read the new practice guidance for conveyancers on how to use electronic signatures.

www.ringley.co.uk
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Building safety should not be left up to residents

Building safety reform may leave leaseholders with more responsibility than they want

DAre you happy to shoulder the responsibility for building safety in your block? If not, you’re not alone. According to new research published this week and commissioned by freeholders the Savanta Group, around 75% of more than 1,000 leaseholders they surveyed are concerned about the new obligations they could be landed with as a result of the Government’s building safety reforms.

The research reveals that most leaseholders are satisfied with their current level of rights and responsibilities. But they are concerned that the new building safety obligations outlined in the draft building safety bill last week, would be a “disaster” if left to residents. And one in three even went so far as to say that if they are faced with additional responsibilities for building safety, they would be more likely to sell their property than before.

The proposed reforms, if translated into law, could radically increase the financial, legal and even criminal obligations associated with building management and include the creation of an “Accountable Person”, in charge of building safety. Residents could find themselves forced to take on this position, which involves considerable liability, should freeholders exit the market as a result of the proposed abolition of ground rent.  Is this simply not too much for residents who may be expert in their own right but not in property?  And even the very best property manager is not an engineer or facilities manager either!   So essentially all this means extra fees for leaseholders. And with the new government push towards commonhold, without the role of professional landlord, then what will prevail?

As well as the draft safety bill, last week saw the publication of the Law Commission’s report into leasehold reform, which promotes commonhold as the preferred alternative to leasehold and which would bring in a new model of shared ownership and responsibility in residential blocks.

Although 1,000 leaseholders out of the estimated 4.5 million flat owners in England is a small sample, what this latest research from Savanta tells us is that very few residents have any real interest in shouldering the burden of managing their block. They are rightly concerned that they would end up being responsible for “keeping on top of fire and safety management” which, as any property manager will tell you, is a job for a professional. In fact, our view, along with that of the Institute of Residential Property Management is that, under the new building safety regime, the role of ‘Accountable Person’ is not a role for a property manager, who in any case would struggle to get enough professional indemnity insurance to allow them to carry it out.  In truth, it is the fire safety profession that is growing – and even then property managers will have yet more to coordinate and manage.

In fact, although freeholders are largely out of favour in the current climate, they are far better placed to take on the responsibilities set out in draft bill. There are plenty of good, responsible freeholders in the property market who are well equipped – and funded – to take on problems such as building disrepair and conflict between residents. They are also able to take whole-building decisions that would be impossible for leaseholders to tackle.

All a leaseholder asks is to live in a well-maintained building that has been constructed in accordance with the building regulations, which is managed properly and retains its value. They should not be expected to shoulder the responsibility of keeping their building and their neighbours safe too. Now, it seems inevitable that they will have to shoulder the cost!

www.ringley.co.uk
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Why we say YES to healthy homes guidance!

New housing developments get new guidelines

New healthy homes design guidance for England has just been published. This is timely in light of our blog yesterday about making our town centres more attractive places to live and work. The new guidelines, Building for a Healthy Life, which are backed by the NHS, aim to encourage healthier lifestyles to be planned into new housing developments and were officially launched this week.

The new design toolkit sets out the priorities for creating healthier communities. These include improved walking, cycling and public transport links, reduced carbon emissions and better air quality. The aim is to ensure that masterplans for new developments should be based on an assessment of local health and care needs, with the creation of integrated neighbourhoods rather than ghettoes of new homes or affordable housing and well-defined public spaces.

The new healthy homes guidelines use the same 12-point structure as Building for Life 12 (the design guidance that has been in place since 2012) with examples of good practice that would give a proposed development a green light and bad practice that would earn a red light from planners. However, the thinking behind Building for a Healthy Life is that it should prompt discussion around good design and planning, rather than simply act as a tick-box scoring system.

We all know there are still too many poorly designed new build schemes around the country. They are easy to spot. They lack character, with cookie-cuttter homes, too little public amenity space and poor access to public transport. If new guidance can help improve the standard of design for new housing by creating well-defined streets and spaces, focus on placemaking and help people get active by walking and cycling more, we are all in favour. But as ever the proof will be whether, in a few years’ time, we start to see new housing that we would all be happy to live in, rather than the bleak, almost identical developments that too often spring up around our towns and cities.

www.ringley.co.uk
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