Stephen Williams writes … Energy efficient homes, house building and minority rights for Cornwall

Terraced housingAs we have now begun the summer recess, I wanted to write an update on the progress that has been made at the Department for Communities and Local Government in recent months. Despite differences in priority between our Conservative coalition partners we have made huge strides in key policy areas and I believe that we should be proud and confident highlighting these achievements on the door step.

One of the most crucial recent breakthroughs has been in regards to zero carbon homes. As I am sure you are aware, if we are to meet our carbon emissions targets then we have to make our housing stock more energy efficient by introducing strict new regulations. This, of course, is easier said than done and we have had to work extensively with developers, industry representatives and environmental groups in order to agree ambitious yet practical energy efficiency targets.  As a result of drawn out negotiations with the Conservatives, the government is now legislating, through the Infrastructure Bill, to introduce a list of ‘allowable solutions’. This is the final measure needed to enable house builders to construct all new homes to a zero-carbon standard from 2016. Zero carbon homes has been a key priority for me since becoming a minister and I am delighted that this incredibly important green policy is now being delivered.

We have also made important progress in regards to housing. The government is currently in the process of building 170,000 new social and affordable homes, whilst we have set out plans for a further 165,000 to be built in the first three years of the next Parliament. This is the highest rate of affordable house building for over two decades and we should be proud that we are the first government for over thirty years to deliver a net increase in the social housing stock. Never forget that under Labour the net stock of social rent housing, between 1997 and 2010, fell by 420,000.

Part of my brief as minister has been to address the issue of empty homes, which has been a blight on our housing market for far too long. Empty homes reached a record high under Labour in 2008 but since 2010 the number of empty homes has fallen by 102,000 – 84,000 of them long-term empties. Empty homes are now at their lowest level for a decade and I intend to make further progress before the election in May. I’ve also published decisions on the housing standards review. I have insisted on creating the first national space standard for councils to adopt, giving them the tools to end ‘rabbit hutch’ homes.

Flag_of_CornwallFinally, I would like to highlight our achievement in granting minority status for the Cornish. After months of hard work we announced in April that the proud history, unique culture, and distinctive language of Cornwall will be fully recognised, under European rules, for the protection of national minorities. As a proud Welshman I was determined to extend to the Cornish the same status already enjoyed by the Welsh and our fellow Celts, the Scots and the Irish. Importantly, government departments and public bodies will now be required to take Cornwall’s views into account when making policy decisions. This is a landmark breakthrough for the people of Cornwall and I believe that we should be proud to have officially recognised their status as a minority.

Now is certainly not the time to be complacent and there is much more to be done between now and May. However, there are significant achievements to talk about and I hope that you are able to champion them on the door step.


* Stephen Williams was the Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West 2005-2015 and was Minister for Communities in the Coalition Government.

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  • “The government is currently in the process of building 170,000 new social and affordable homes”

    What is the basis of this figure? The latest Housing Building statistical report says that there were 4950 Social housing starts and 1090 local authority starts in 2014 Q1. TOTAL housing starts (including all private building) in 2013-14 were only 130,000 for the whole year.

    So where does the figure of 170,00 “currently in the process of building” come from?

  • (sorry Social above should be Housing Assoc)

  • Jenny Barnes 29th Jul '14 - 8:21pm

    I seem to remember the “Parker Morris” standards that applied to council houses back in the days when the market didn’t rule everything.

  • I note you say if we want to meet our targets, I hope you also note that when the targets got set no one asked home owners if they could afford the changes required for transforming homes.

  • Its not actually the government building most of these homes anyway is it??? What houses does the government actually build these days? Perhaps some MOD housing. Housing associations are not the government.

  • >” The government is currently in the process of building 170,000 new social and affordable homes, whilst we have set out plans for a further 165,000 to be built in the first three years of the next Parliament. ”

    and none of these will be zero carbon or comply with the much touted, but watered down 2016 zero-carbon building regulations. I therefore detect yet another media presentation intended to gloss over a failure to deliver…

  • peter tyzack 30th Jul '14 - 10:24am

    my guess is that the ’empty homes’ figure is far higher than that. In the old rate-support grant system there was a penalty for empty homes, which were easy for councils to under-record .. any Focus deliverer can tell you the number of houses in a walk that has accumulated post behind the door… they are still under-recorded.
    It’s relatively simple – any building(in any condition) should be paying a tax as it occupies land (‘the Land belongs to the People’ principle). That tax might be Business Rates, Council Tax or Land Value Tax (now there’s an idea!).. and if every building pays then owners will be encouraged to make good use of them. Any building that stays derelict, and the owner fails to pay, would have dues levied against it until it owes more than it’s worth and then the land reverts to the State.

  • >government departments and public bodies will now be required
    >to take Cornwall’s views into account when making policy decisions.

    I don’t understand this line at all, what do we really get out of this? Most of the “1000” Cornish speakers aren’t Cornish at all and I’ve never heard 2 people hold a long conversation in the language. Unless it’s going to help people here get a house instead of being outpriced by retirees from north of the Tamar it’s not worth anything to the Cornish, and I don’t know anyone that thinks it does. So, thanks for your patronising head pat Stephen – why is it harder to buy a house here now for local people than when you came into office?

    It’s nice to be a minority that does the low paid jobs enabling the English to die in our housing stock whilst we rent from them, but it would be better still if you helped address these issues rather than exacerbate them.

  • jedibeeftrix 31st Jul '14 - 11:31am

    “It’s relatively simple – any building(in any condition) should be paying a tax as it occupies land (‘the Land belongs to the People’ principle)”

    Hmmm, I’m really not sure that is what is meant when we talk about the principle of property ownership…

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