There is a now an established body of evidence which shows how the location, layout and quality of our homes and neighbourhoods directly and indirectly impact our mental and physical health. This is why the Healthy Homes Principles are required, now more than ever.
In a recent conservation about the need for healthy homes, a friend commented, ‘surely its more important that people simply have a roof over their heads?‘. I replied, ‘Well, not if those ‘homes’ are so mouldy, small, unsafe and poorly located that they are actually making people sick or worse’. Our understanding about how buildings impact our health has deepened significantly in recent times. Yet despite this knowledge, we still seem to be creating homes that are not just bad to look at but are actually making us sick. According to the Resolution Foundation, one in ten people are living in poor quality homes in the UK. And that means they are twice as likely to experience poor general health. The Building Research Establishment found that 2.6 million homes in England (11%) in 2021 were of poor quality and even hazardous to occupants, resulting in costs to the NHS of at least £1.4 billion every year. The National Housing Federation recently reported that over 2 million children are living in cramped accommodation, with overcrowding impacting residents’ mental and physical health. School-Home Support also found the proportion of children who said housing concerns are an obstacle to school attendance rose from 11% in 2022 to 19% in 2023.
During a debate on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) in the House of Lords on 27 March, peers pointed out that current policy and building regulations are failing to provide a coherent basis to ensure healthy homes for all. As Baroness Hayman commented:
‘Scandalously, hundreds of thousands of homes are being built every year which will require future retrofitting because we did not implement the standards early enough. We have our most vulnerable citizens living in fuel poverty in cold and leaky homes.’
To address these failures, Lord Nigel Crisp, with the TCPA and the support of a wider coalition of parliamentarians and organisations, is calling on the government to adopt a set of 11 Healthy Homes Principles to establish a statutory duty on the Secretary of State within the Levelling up Bill. The amendments will make it mandatory for all new homes to meet the 11 Healthy Homes Principles, whether they are converted through Permitted Development or otherwise.
This change is needed because current planning policy and building regulations are failing to consistently promote health outcomes through housing development. Whilst planning policy is a ‘material consideration’ for decisions around planning applications, it is not mandatory and can be constrained by viability considerations. Similarly, there is variation in the degree to which developers are expected to comply with different building regulations, according to the scale and type of development. The current piecemeal nature of regulation does not create clarity for planners or for developers around the central importance of health outcomes from housing development. A recent review of English planning policy and building regulations highlighted these weaknesses. It found that ‘health is not integrated into the legal requirements that LPAs can rely on to base their decisions’. The review recommended establishing the Healthy Homes Principles into law and calls for the better use of local health evidence to shape planning decisions (Montel, L., 2023).
The principles establish the scaffolding that frame the quality of all new homes – setting housing as a cornerstone for promoting people’s health.
Setting the Healthy Homes Principles as a mandatory obligation will create clarity about the level of quality of housing that developers must provide. The principles establish the scaffolding that frame the quality of all new homes – setting housing as a cornerstone for promoting people’s health. They are founded on clear evidence that better quality housing is vital for promoting health and avoiding harm (e.g. Callway et al, 2023; Bird et al, 2018).
It’s easy to get lost in statistics and forget that this is people’s lives we are talking about. But we can all agree that we should be creating homes that promote rather than undermine our health. There are examples of good housing projects that are both affordable and healthy. But unfortunately, as the National Housing Federation, Resolution Foundation and other recent reports show, all too often this is still not the case. We need systemic change to deliver good quality housing for everyone, and not just for those who can afford it.
Rosalie Callway, TCPA Healthy Homes campaign manager
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These are homes – photobook by photographer Rob Clayton highlights the dire conditions residents are experiencing in permitted development conversions