Topic: Article
Posted on 25th Jul 2023

Housing Reform: Building Healthy Homes That Create Social Value Is the Key to a Successful Policy

The government is reframing its housebuilding policies once again. This time around it may be helpful to consider how this new approach is going to create social value.

Social value associated with housing conditions (both inside and outside the home) is one of the key elements that frames people’s quality of life. Housing is one of the 11 dimensions of wellbeing set out in the OECD’s Better Life Index which is used by RealWorth to assess the changes in people’s lives. Despite being such a crucial ingredient of the social value, the efforts to avoid the creation of poor housing conditions have never been properly enshrined in law.

This is something that the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has been championing through its Healthy Homes Campaign. If they are successful there will be a statutory requirement for developers and public bodies to ensure that housing is built to principles that support, not undermine, resident’s health and aspirations. The TCPA is now putting its efforts behind an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) currently going through Parliament. The ‘Healthy Homes’ amendment has been sponsored through the House of Lords by Lord Nigel Crisp who, as Nigel Crisp was chief executive of the National Health Service in England between 2000 and 2006, and permanent secretary at the UK Department of Health. RealWorth was involved at an early stage of the Campaign when the TCPA asked us to consider how much social value could be delivered if the amendment was adopted. Consequently, we have been following this debate with more than our usual levels of interest.

At its core, the amendment to the Bill seeks to require authorities to confirm that 11 legally-binding ‘Healthy Homes Principles’ (see graphic) are integral to every housing scheme.

From TCPA website

The TCPA is following several other investigations that reinforce its argument for change. It cites a  report from the Building Research Establishment that shows that hazards in poorly built or maintained homes result in over £1 billion of NHS expenditure every year. It highlights another report from Arup which concludes that over half (55%) of the UK’s housing stock is prone to dangerous overheating which had led to almost 800 excess deaths per year in England and Wales. The TCPA also points to other consequences of poor quality housing, including excess cold (linked to poor insulation and fuel poverty) which increases arthritis, undermines sleep quality, and exacerbates cardiac and respiratory conditions.

The TCPA contends that poor housing leading to a deterioration in health costs the British taxpayer £1.4 billion a year. The requirement for authorities to apply the 11 Principles would act (Lord Crisp has said) like an MOT for homes. He asserts that people ‘deserve to live in a home that meets basic standards. There is plenty of government advice and policy but there is no requirement that homes safeguard our health. We need compulsory minimum standards. Without them, we are building the slums of the future’.

Of course, campaigners like the TCPA and Lord Crisp are right – living in conditions that undermine social value can only have negative effects on so many aspects of daily life. Organisations like the Quality of Life Foundation are working to understand post-occupation attitudes to new housing so that housebuilding and place-making mistakes are not perpetually repeated. Reproducing sub-standard housing compounds already entrenched problems in society.

The most obvious impacts on both physical and mental health lead to many other consequences. These include impacts on the ability to find work, be productive at work, or hold on to jobs. This can in turn impact on tendencies towards crime or becoming a victim of crime. Bad housing limits people in their aspirations to mix with others, or to have the motivation to seek out the company of friends and family. It can affect relationships and the opportunities that come from connections with others. For young people, poor home environments can affect school attendance and the ability to learn or do homework.

Lord Crisp also said that ultimately, it must be seen as a false economy for the State to support new or refurbished development that ‘fails to understand all of the elements that can lead to a healthy and life-enabling home’. This is of course the essence of the motivation to carry out social value assessments of any built environment project. It can’t be in anyone’s interests (developers or regulators) to save money at the front end of a project, only to see the consequences of negative social value pile up at the taxpayers expense once people have been exposed to its hazards. This is exactly why there is so much concern about the government’s plans to convert shops into houses. There is nothing wrong with encouraging the repurposing of underused buildings, but there is little faith that non-residential spaces with be renovated to superior living standards without a change in the ability to enforce these standards.

Far from simply echoing the quality of the project, social value studies highlight the good and pinpoint the harmful. They can also highlight the under-invested opportunities to improve housing schemes for the public benefit. Everybody wins when good quality building projects can be seen (through regular post-occupancy work) to have demonstrated that development can be a force for good.

Crafted in Liverpool by Kaleidoscope