Why we say YES to healthy homes guidance!

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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
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

It’s time for a town centre revival!

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Could new planning laws bring life back to the high street? Photo credit: Metin Ozer

Can we expect to see a town centre revival in the next few years? The Government certainly hopes so. Changes to planning legislation, expected to be in place by September, will make it quicker and easier to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, and to re-purpose commercial and retail properties to help revitalise high streets and town centres around the country. Other changes will also enable up to two additional storeys to be added to homes via a fast track approval process.

The aim is to bring people back into urban centres and make more space for new businesses, helping towns and cities adapt quickly to what consumers and business need, while at the same time reducing pressure to build on greenfield sites and deliver more homes that fit the character of their local area – but without the red tape. And if our national green strategy is to encourage people to use their cars less we need to live where our jobs are – another great argument in favour of living and working in our town centres.

The problem right now is that many of our town centres are rather depressing places to live in.   Institutional Build to Rent with flexible workspaces and amenities are coming – but not fast enough.

In reality, creating homes from commercial space can create problems for developers.  It is clear that our largely Victorian and pre-war high streets do not meet today’s requirements; parking provision is poor and expensive, units are often small with a lack of ceiling height or opportunities for mezzanine floors; basements are built on a grid system with a high number of structural partitions, and we have space to light and air-exchange requirements to meet. So retail buildings clearly present challenges. But conversely, frequently unused upper floors bring the prospect of creating on-trend loft-style units. And while we have ‘overlooking’ rules, with the appropriate screening this too could be a chance to open up atriums and create internal gardens.

With a little creative thinking, there are real opportunities for developer- led town centre initiatives.  First, one can achieve much higher densities in town centres, second, localism is unlikely to present any threats and third, making urban areas car-free is less likely to face opposition.  

We all saw the banks raise capital by auctioning off their freeholds and becoming tenants, with opportunities still remaining on our beleaguered high streets for more of the same.  Large stores could very easily downsize, lose some floors to residential, and with this autumn’s new legislation in place, have new penthouse floors on the roof.  Management company structures need not disturb the developer’s right to retail rental income, as the developer can grant his investment vehicle a head lease thereby making the retail unit a member of the management company, but removing the investment income.

So as well as loosening the planning laws, the Government needs to set a vision for the future for town centres; we need streetscapes, turnover rates, and a deadline for every local authority to put in place a town centre master plan.  We are now a ‘lifestyle’ society so the focus needs to be on what makes a town centre a place to choose to go to socialise and have a great day out.  Why can’t our town centres be dotted with children’s play areas?  Why can’t we encourage the private sector to put in free alfresco internet hubs on our high streets where once we had telephone boxes?   Why can’t this be the year that all national lottery-funded art simply has to go to our high streets?   Let’s encourage lifestyle providers to our high streets, such as hairdressers, nail salons and fitness centres, making the high street the place to go and get ready for a night out

And why can’t all building refurbishment in town centre development zones be VAT free?  That way there would be a presumption towards refurbishing our deserted department stores. Inevitably a number of lower rise buildings will need to go.  Our town centres lack people and we must bring them back. This new legislation, if used effectively, could make it possible.

It is so sad when you drive into a town centre only to see shops crudely bricked up and poorly repurposed as housing. It is time for a robust strategy and a design framework to re-claim these areas with housing that is as uniformly pleasing as our much-loved out-of-town streetscapes.

Arguably the world is now brand-driven. So if ‘Dreams’ and ‘Sports Direct’ can boast that acceptable percentages of their stores are ‘in town’ we need to tell British business that the best community initiative you can have is to send the message that ‘cool brands are in town’.

Out-of-town retail floor space has been increasing for decades, while in-town space fails. The economic fall-out from Covid-19 and the ever-increasing trend for online shopping is set to reduce retail footfall even further. So if by encouraging local government, planners and developers to work together to move the consumer into an experience-led high street within walking distance of home, then maybe we stand a chance of starting the revival we all want to see in our towns and cities.

What do you think? Will the Government’s legislation make a real difference to our high streets? We’d like to hear your comments.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk


 
 
 
 

Law Commission report is both timely and welcome – but we urge caution

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The Law Commission report into the leasehold sector is published this week

The Law Commission report into leasehold reform is a timely announcement, as the Government looks to restart the housing market. But we sound a note of caution.
 
The proposals, announced on 21 July, to streamline and simplify the process of buying the freehold of a leasehold property are especially welcome – not least because every lease is getting shorter. However, it is debatable whether the changes set out in the report will equitably offset the proposed extension to permitted development rights that was announced earlier this month. This would allow certain building owners to add another two storeys to residential blocks without planning permission, increasing what is known as the ‘hope value’ of a building, and therefore making the purchase of the freehold of a building more expensive. So despite the clear benefit of the proposed reforms, the Government could simply be giving with one hand and taking with the other.
 
Improving leaseholders’ right to manage their building is also welcome, especially in smaller blocks where, if there is harmony among leaseholders, self-managing may be an option. This means insurance commissions can be saved, and budgets and major works plans can be set by those who want to maintain their asset value, rather than by an absentee freeholder who, disillusioned by the diminishing value of his reversionary interest, may have given up!
 
The Law Commission’s report into leasehold reform also carries the oft-repeated call for converting leasehold flats into commonhold. Unfortunately this is not as simple a solution to the woes of leaseholders as people think. In fact, it would create a lot of grey areas around building management – and would impact the ability of managing agents to stand as directors for Resident Management Companies because not one leaseholder can be found to step forward as a director.

Commonhold is not a silver bullet; like all forms of tenure it comes with its own problems. Many institutional investors such as pension funds and insurers have invested in freeholds and ground rents provide them with an important income stream to match their liabilities. So with many major investors losing out on revenue during the Covid-19 outbreak as shopping centres and offices have remained closed, any move towards commonhold must be made while bearing this fact in mind.

For more on leasehold reform read our previous blog here.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk



Code of practice for agents – have your say

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The new code is out for consultation until 4 September

A proposed code of practice for property agents is now out for consultation, so block managers can take a look and comment on the proposals. These include 14 recommendations made by Lord Best in his Regulation of Property Agents report published last year. The code proposes a set of principles underpinning the professional standards that will be expected of residential property agents in the future.

The Code is split into two sections: ‘Dealing with consumers’ and ‘Managing businesses and staff’ and it applies both to the conduct and behaviour of agency firms and to agents as individuals. It will apply to anyone working in property sales and to lettings agents and property managers, as well as to auctioneers and property guardians. The code will also sit above the sector-specific codes that already regulate agents working in particular markets such as leasehold, retirement housing and build-to-rent.

The 14 recommendations are:

  • Agents must act legally, ethically, with honesty and integrity.
  • Agents must seek to avoid conflicts of interest, and where this is unavoidable, declare all conflicts of interest and ensure these are managed properly.
  • Agents must treat all consumers fairly and equally.
  • Agents must comply with all relevant legislation.
  • Agents must act with due skill, care, and diligence.
  • Agents must communicate clearly, accurately, and transparently to represent correctly their service or product.
  • Agents must report breaches of the relevant code(s) to the new Regulator.
  • Agents must be open and transparent with the new Regulator about matters that might affect their or others’ trust in the profession.
  • Agents must disclose and report any information relating to a property that could threaten a resident’s safety or does not conform to relevant mandatory property standards.
  • Agents must manage their businesses and staff effectively.
  • Agents must make appropriate arrangements to protect consumers’ money.
  • Agents must maintain appropriate accounts and records (*) of their business activities.
  • Agents must ensure that all staff are qualified and capable to handle responsibilities delegated to them.
  • Agents must handle information sensitively and in accordance with data protection legislation.

If you think some of these proposals sound woolly and are wondering exactly what they mean, the full consultation explains in detail what will need to be done to comply with each point.

And regulation just got serious because, in future, a serious failure to meet the new standards could mean regulatory or criminal action being taken against an agency and/or its staff. So this consultation is a really important one and is well worth contributing to if you have strong views.

To read the full consultation paper and to have your say click here.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

What does the new Building Safety Bill mean for you?

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Today’s draft Building Safety Bill has been a long time coming. But we hope it will be a major step forward in improving levels of safety in residential blocks. The new legislation is based on the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s building safety review, which was carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. The Government accepted the review’s recommendations in full and today’s draft Bill, which sits alongside the Fire Safety Bill published in March, sets out how they will be taken forward.

For leaseholders, the proposals will mean big changes to the way safety in your block is managed and regulated.

  • A new role of the ‘Accountable Person’ will be created to make sure there will always be someone responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings – blocks that are 18 metres high and above. Whoever takes on this role will also have to listen and respond to residents’ concerns and ensure their voices are heard.
  • A new national regulator for building safety is being created within the Health and Safety Executive. This new regulator will ensure that high rise buildings and their residents are being kept safe; it will have new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings. The regulator will appoint a panel of residents who will have a voice in the development of its work.
  • In future residents and leaseholders will be given access to safety information about their building so that they can have an input and ensure any issues they raise are listened to.
  • There will be new complaints handling requirements to make sure effective action is taken when concerns are raised.
  • A new ‘building safety charge’ will make it easy for leaseholders to see and know what they are being charged for when it comes to keeping their building safe. But, to make sure that these costs are affordable, the costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders will be limited.
  • For the first time, new build homebuyers will have their right to complain to a New Homes Ombudsman, protected in legislation, and developers will be required to be a member of the scheme. The New Homes Ombudsman will hold developers to account and will have the ability to require developers to pay compensation.

We welcome the new Bill and we are also pleased to hear the Government’s stated commitment today “to making sure that leaseholders won’t pay unaffordable costs for historic repairs to their buildings”. The Government says it will continue to engage with stakeholders, including leaseholders, on this issue while the draft Bill is being scrutinised by Parliament. It has also committed to “speeding up work with the finance and insurance industries, to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs of fixing historic defects, but without relying on taxpayers’ money”. And recently raised insurance issues around building safety will also be tackled.

This is all good news. Let’s now hope the government can deliver all it is promising without delay. It has been three years since Grenfell. Leaseholders in blocks around the country badly need action – they can’t afford to wait any longer.

You can read the new Building Safety Bill in full on the Government website here.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Lenders to rethink cladding safety forms

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The Housing Minister has confirmed that lenders will review the EWS1 form

Mortgage lenders are to ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of the installation of External Wall Systems (EWS) on the ability of leaseholders to sell properties fitted with flammable cladding.

In response to a question in Parliament earlier this week, Housing Minister Christopher Pincher has confirmed that mortgage lenders are to review their use of External Wall System or EWS1 forms.

The Housing Minister said the Government is aware that some lenders are requesting valuers use the EWS1 form on a wider scope of buildings than was intended and he accepted that “this may be having a negative effect on the mortgage market for such buildings”; a master[piece of understatement, given that hundreds of leaseholders around the country are finding it impossible to move or re-mortgage as a result of these forms.

However, the situation may be improving now that the Minister for Building Safety has held a roundtable with mortgage lenders, who agreed a more “nuanced approach to risk is required”. According to Christopher Pincher, they are reviewing their policies and guidance to valuers on the use of the form. If true, we hope any re-think is quickly translated into action for those flat owners who are desperate to sell their homes but whose flats have been blighted by zero valuations from mortgage lenders.

Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring is an expert speaker on the topic of EWS1 forms and their impact on the leasehold market. She says “I have heard of a case where a mortgage valuer requested an EWS1 form on a bungalow – which seems just blatant abuse of the intended purpose. Since government guidance changed to require that ‘anything that assists a fire’ on the ‘external wall system’ needs to be addressed, and that this applies to all buildings irrespective of height, the common sense principle of means of escape certainly in lower-rise buildings seems to have been wholly overlooked”. 

We support a review of guidance and are concerned as to the blight affecting many homeowners, not only struggling to sell but to remortgage too.  

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Flood risk homes to get more protection

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Is your home at risk from flooding?

Flood risk is a major problem for millions of homeowners. So a new strategy to make homes more resilient and improve flood management is good news. Yesterday the Environment Agency set out a plan to better protect and prepare millions of homes and businesses in areas where flooding is a problem.

The Agency estimates that more than 5.2 million properties in England are already at risk, and climate change will lead to even more people being affected. With more extreme weather expected, including summer temperatures up to 7.4˚C hotter and 59% more rainfall by 2050, the new Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy sets out how to tackle the problem during the next decade.

Measures will include:

  • Expanded flood warnings by 2022 to all at-risk properties, with 62,000 more families to be added to the service
  • Increased investment in natural flood management schemes to better protect communities, tackle climate change and create new wildlife habitats
  • Further promote the use of property flood resilience measures to help homeowners recover more quickly from flooding
  • More collaborative partnerships with national road, rail and utilities providers to promote better flood resilience and benefit the public.

The new strategy was announced alongside details of the £5.2 billion that will be spent on flood protection up to 2027, plus a further £200 million for resilience measures in 25 areas around the country.

There will also be reforms to the FloodRe insurance programme based on a review of the scheme published last July. Flood Re is a government insurance scheme that gives access to affordable insurance for hundreds of thousands of homes at high risk of flooding.

The proposed changes include:

  • offering discounted premiums to households that have fitted flood resilience measures such as airbrick covers or non-return valves.
  • claims payments to include an additional amount to help homeowners refurbish their damaged property in a more flood resilient way.

This news is very welcome, especially as climate change makes widespread flooding likely to become more frequent. To read more about what to do if your home is threatened by rising floodwater, read our blog on this topic here.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Leasehold reform is needed but watch out for unintended consequences

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Leasehold reform may have unintended consequences for leaseholders

Leasehold reform hasn’t made much progress lately, despite the much-publicised promise last year of new legislation to benefit homeowners. The Queens Speech in December noted the Government’s intention to reform unfair practices in the leasehold market. But no date was given for when new legislation might be introduced. Clearly, the pandemic has put less urgent Government business on hold. Now questions are being asked.

Flat owners will be pleased to hear that Clive Betts MP, the chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has written to the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher, asking him to outline the Governments’ current timetable for the introduction of reforms and to detail any interim measures you will put in place in the meantime.

Mr Betts doesn’t mince his words. While the Committee appreciates that the Government will want to wait for the Law Commission to conclude its ongoing review of existing leasehold law, it is vital that the abuses this committee uncovered are addressed, he says. He is clear that leaseholders continue to suffer from onerous ground rents, permission fees, opaque and excessive service charges, and high enfranchisement costs and they are understandably desperate for these to be remedied as a matter of urgency. Add to this the ongoing cladding scandal which is impacting thousands of leaseholders around the country and the Government’s record for rapid resolution of the serious issues impacting leaseholders doesn’t look good.

We support Clive Betts’ call to speed up the much-needed reforms revealed last year. However, leasehold and the relationship between freeholders and flat owners – is complex. For example, setting ground rents at zero benefits residents in the short term but may lead to freeholders, denied of an income stream, not bothering to take an interest in good quality asset management, to the detriment of leaseholders and leading to decaying housing stock.

Right to Manage may provide a remedy to this problem but, in our view, one of the biggest problems that remains unaddressed is that once acquired by leaseholders, this right is not transferable. This is a diminishing disaster. What it means is that as flat owners move on, the annual costs of running the RTM company fall to fewer and fewer people. The end result is that one leaseholder could end up shouldering all the costs. This can’t be right and must be fixed.

So we welcome Clive Betts timely intervention but urge the Government to make a real effort to understand how leasehold works on the ground. We think some of the proposed reforms could have unintended consequences for flat owners and the blocks they live in. What do you think?

If you are struggling to sell your property with a short lease, wanting to enfranchise or claim your right to manage, then Team Ringley can help. 

  • Alistair McGill – Head of Survey
  • Lee Harle – Head of Law
  • Graham Bennett – Head of Property
  • Kim Rutter – Deputy Head of Property

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Buy your freehold now before the law changes

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If you want to buy your freehold, it could be more expensive following the proposed planning reforms

Would you like to buy your freehold? If so, start the process now. This is the advice from Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring who is urging flat owners to get the ball rolling before new planning laws come into force in September. Radical planning reform announced this week could have unintended consequences for leaseholders, she warns.

On Monday, the Prime Minister announced changes to the planning system that aim to make it easier to repurpose empty retail and commercial premises and redevelop them as new homes instead. So far, so good. But under the new rules, freeholders of purpose-built residential blocks will also be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process. This will be subject to neighbour consultation but could have a negative impact on flat owners in blocks around the country who want to buy their freehold.

A planning policy paper is expected later this month, setting out proposals to reform England’s seven-decade-old planning system. The changes are then expected to come into effect by September 2020.

Here’s the Ringley take on what the changes could mean for flat owners. The valuation method used under current legislation for leaseholders who want to enfranchise and buy the freehold of their block of flats provides for ‘hope value’ in the freehold interest. Hope value can include the market value of land, or roof or airspace development rights based on the expectation of getting planning permission for development. The proposed new legislation just made the hope value of roof or airspace development less of a hope and significantly more of a certainty!

The hope value of extra flats that could be built on top of blocks under the proposed planning changes becomes a positive presumption, which will impact the enfranchisement valuer’s calculation of the hope value to be included in the enfranchisement premium. So if we take the example of a block where all the leases are long leases with more than 80 years unexpired and therefore there is no ‘marriage value’, the enfranchisement premium would be circa 20-25 x the ground rent plus the present value of the freehold deferred by the number of years the leases had unexpired.  To buy the freehold, each leaseholder would pay a percentage of this total in relation to their flat as well as a share of what is left for the flats who are not participating, including hope value.  But under the proposed changes, in theory, the premium for leaseholders would increase because the certainty of the hope value for buildings purpose-built and constructed between 1 July 1948 and 5 March 2018 will be a fast track approval process.

Another issue that looks unfairly weighted against leaseholders – and may end up being left for the courts to determine – is whether it is physically possible to build additional storeys in the first place. Some blocks may not have sufficient structural bearing capacity in the original design to do so but it could take flat owners a lot of money to prove that this may be the case and doubtless, some leaseholders will suffer.  It also means that freeholders of purpose-built blocks constructed between 1 July 1948 and 5 March 2018 will be in less of a rush to create roof space leases to increase the enfranchisement price by creating a degree of certainty of further development.   Needless to say, for blocks constructed in this time period the weighting of the hope value for enfranchisement purposes will significantly shift!

So our advice to leaseholders wishing to buy their freehold is to start the process and get their S13 notice in as soon as possible before this becomes law in September.

Our in-house legal practice Ringley Law has many years of experience in enfranchisement and is happy to advise flat owners on the best way to proceed. You can also read our guide to buying your freehold on our website here https://leaseholdguidance.co.uk/.  Or read more about it in our Freehold Enfranchisement e-book at https://ringley.co.uk/ebooks

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Will Fire Safety Bill leave leaseholders out of pocket – again?

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Does the new Fire Safety Bill go far enough or will it leave leaseholders in the lurch?

There are far too few fire safety inspectors planned under proposals set out in the Fire Safety Bill and too little funding being put forward by the Government. This is the view of the Fire Brigades Union, which has slammed the government for what it says is a “gross underestimate” of the resources that are needed to tackle building safety in England. The Union estimates that three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, more than 50,000 homeowners are still living in unsafe blocks and the new legislation, now going through parliament, will do little to help.

The Fire Safety Bill announced in March, gives additional responsibilities to the fire service to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of residential blocks. This includes the building structure and external walls, stairwells, and doors between individual flats. The government’s maximum estimated spend to cover the cost of these inspections is £2.1m. But the FBU told Landlord Today that this would pay for just 35 inspectors – less than one per brigade in England.

Clearly, these numbers are woefully inadequate. However, as Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring points out, the Hackitt Review did suggest that the Joint Competent Authority to be set up to oversee safety in new and existing buildings over 10 stories should be self-funding; no government money would be required. However, the more likely scenario is a little different.

What we fear is that ultimately, as with the EWS1 form compliance and fire risk assessment and remediation works on blocks below 18 metres, as well as the compartmentation testing that is now becoming standard – the cost will be an additional burden on leaseholders, who will yet again be left to foot the bill.

www.ringley.co.uk
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blog.planetrent.co.uk