AXA pushes safety and sustainability to the heart of planning reforms
- AXA UK has published five key policy recommendations for Government to consider when developing planning reforms
- With input from cross-industry experts, recommendations focus on the safety and sustainability of housing to ensure properties remain insurable
- AXA UK urges the Government to prioritise the long-term resilience and safety of the UK built environment and address emerging issues such as skills and Modern Methods of Construction
AXA UK has published its recommendations for a future-fit planning system, focused on ensuring safety and sustainability are at the heart of building regulations and the planning process.
Following events such as the recent floods throughout Europe and the continued occurrence of major tower block fires, it is paramount that Government places more emphasis on the insurability and resilience of the UK's built environment. Unless Government follows a joined-up approach which addresses building safety, increasing flood risks and the growing skills shortage in the construction sector, the UK risks repeating previous mistakes by delivering housing and infrastructure that is unfit for those living in them.
These recommendations, summarised below, were developed following a roundtable event attended by cross-industry experts, including residential and commercial developers and construction industry groups.
Insurability of buildings
- In future, principles of risk assessment, safety and insurability must be developed and enshrined at all stages of the planning process.
- A legal duty should be introduced for all developers to have due regard to the insurability of buildings at all stages of the process, from the very first planning application right through to the completion of construction.
Modern methods of construction (MMC)
- MMC could play an important role in enabling Government to meet its ambitious house-building targets quickly, affordably and sustainably. However, it is also recognised that, as usage of MMC increases, so does the risk posed by a lack of knowledge about these more untested methods which could have significant ramifications for safety.
- A publicly accessible and transparent online database should be established to serve as a go-to resource which hosts a record of all MMC properties and clearly defines the types of materials used. Government, regulators and industry should input into this resource, which should help to define what ‘good’ looks like in the use of MMC and to provide an early warning system of any safety concerns which emerge in these developments as a result.
- Government must protect flood risk areas from future developments. Around 120,000 new homes have been built in flood-prone areas of England and Wales over the past decade, with disadvantaged neighbourhoods bearing the brunt of this1. There are several measures the Government can take with little downside risk.
- Installing property flood resilience measures alongside fire resilience measures is key. Government must also pass schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act and align planning policy related to Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. Government should also mandate flood resilience in building regulations and planning criteria.
A diverse marketplace
- Policymakers should take steps to help smaller developers, especially new market entrants and SMEs, to navigate their way through the planning system, including putting in place a specific fund and named contacts at local planning authorities.
- There are tentative signs that the Government recognises the merits of diversifying the sector and ensuring SMEs can play a greater role. We call on Government to go further on this ambition, as we believe it is critical to not only meet the targets on numbers of new builds, but also to ensure standards are driven up.
- The Prime Minister had previously pledged to build an extra 300,000 new homes per year across the UK. These houses can only be built in a safe and sustainable way if we have a workforce with the skill set to make this a reality.
- Government should develop a comprehensive skills strategy to ensure there is the expert capacity necessary within the construction sector. This should include degree, conversion and apprenticeship schemes alongside a specific focus on construction and the built environment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school and in further and higher education.
With the establishment of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, headed by a new Secretary of State, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, all attendees agreed that this is an opportune moment to redesign the planning system so it is fit to address the challenges currently facing the UK’s built environment.
“As one of the UK’s leading property insurers, we want to help develop a comprehensive planning system which supports all industries involved in the UK’s built environment and puts our customers at the core of future plans. This means making sure safety and the insurability of properties is put front and centre of the planning process from the off.
“As we enter a new and exciting phase of building, which will see more eco-friendly and advanced materials and methods deployed, it is essential there is a workforce with the right skills available to deliver these projects.
“The time for action is now – we need to work in partnership with Government to implement long-term reform to our planning system and the recommendations set out in this report would make a real and lasting contribution to future policy.
Douglas Barnett, Director of Mid-market and Customer Risk Management, AXA UK
1 “Current and future flood risk of new build homes across different socio-economic neighbourhoods in England and Wales” by Viktor Rözer and Swenja Surminski, published 27 April 2021 in Environmental Research Letters, Volume 16, Number 5
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