Week commencing 16 April 2018

In today's bulletin

  • Concerns raised over Hackitt review recommendations
  • Select committee calls for greater protection for vulnerable tenants
  • Study reveals motivations of infrequent rail users
  • Cooling appliances to put a strain on energy supplies

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Concerns raised over Hackitt review recommendations

Recommendations made in the Hackitt fire safety review have come under scrutiny from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) over fears that the proposed changes to the legislation do not clarify standards for professionals or reassure the public.
The RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid urging him to ensure that key changes, including a ban on flammable cladding, the mandatory fitting of sprinklers and the installation of a second escape route in high-rise residential, are not overlooked in the final report, due in May.

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Select committee calls for greater protection for vulnerable tenants

Greater legal protections are needed for vulnerable tenants at risk of unfair rent increases, harassment and retaliatory evictions, according to a report from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published on 19 April.
The report calls for more robust penalties, as well as a fund to support local authorities with tackling rogue landlords. It also says there is a need for new ways of communicating rights and responsibilities to tenants and landlords, more transparency of local authorities’ enforcement strategies and a review of legislation relating to the private rented sector to provide more clarity.

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Construction workloads remain strong despite cold spell

The ‘Beast from the East’ did little to slow the pace of growth in the UK’s construction sector, as 23 per cent of chartered surveyors reported their workloads rising, rather than falling, in the first quarter of 2018.
While 63 per cent of respondents to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey felt bad weather was a limiting factor, it was not enough to halt growth in the sector. The figures, which were released on 19 April, also indicated a rise of 36 per cent in private housing workloads, while the public sector only indicated a 10 per cent rise in housing workload.

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Average UK house price hits record high but London continues to drop

A modest rise of 0.4 per cent in April was enough to push the average price of a new-to-the-market property in the UK to a record high of £305,732, latest figures from Rightmove’s House Price Index reveal.
Although the national average is now at record levels, London property prices continued to fall, with a 0.6 per cent drop in April pushing the average price down to £628,039. Equally, sellers in the capital are achieving on average just 95.6 per cent of the asking price, which translates to a shortfall of more than £27,000 per sale.

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First-time buyer borrowing up while buy-to-let stalls

Lending to first-time buyers was 2.4 per cent higher in February 2018 than the same month last year. The figures were released as part of the latest mortgage trends update from UK Finance which also reported there were 50,000 homeowner house purchases in February – the highest number since February 2007.
In addition, there were 25,200 new first-time buyer mortgages completed throughout the month with the average borrower now aged 30 on a household income of £41,000. Meanwhile, the number of new buy-to-let purchase mortgages completed for the same period was down 8.8 per cent year-on-year.

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Gloomy survey results reveal widespread opinion on housing crisis

New data from the Homeowners Survey 2018 has painted a bleak picture of the UK’s housing crisis with 88 per cent of participants citing house prices as a ‘serious problem’.
This figure is up by 77 per cent from just five years ago, with the opinion being predictably mirrored in the capital. 77 per cent of respondents also cited the availability of housing as another major concern.

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Transport

Study reveals motivations of infrequent rail users

Value for money, delays and cancellations are the main motivators for those who do not use rail services, according to a study by independent transport watchdog Transport Focus.
The report, entitled Tomorrow’s passengers: understanding how to make rail travel more attractive to infrequent and non-users, was commissioned as the rapid growth observed in 2016-2017 is starting to slow down. The findings showed that people with disabilities, young people and retired people were the least likely to use rail services.

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Transport planning key to North of England growth

New investment in transport connectivity will not guarantee economic growth in the North of England, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has warned. As part of its response to Transport for the North’s new Strategic Transport Plan, which closed for consultation on 18 April, the RTPI has advised that the introduction of new transport links can often push housing and labour markets to outlying areas, leading to increased congestion and air pollution.
Its key recommendation is to encourage local authorities to work more collaboratively and integrate their planning resources to ensure investment boosts urban regeneration, promotes public transport and reduces journey times.

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Green retrofit for motorways mooted in new report

Planted bridges, wildflower verges and green roofs for service stations are some of the measures in the Campaign for Better Transport’s new report proposing a more environmentally friendly approach to the design and maintenance of our strategic road network.
Published on 17 April, with support from the Rees Jeffreys Roads Fund, Roads and the Environment: Putting an innovative approach at the heart of RIS2 aims to influence Highways England’s post-2020 investment strategy, which is currently under development. The report also suggests noise reduction measures including tree screening to lessen the strategic road network’s impact on surrounding homes and countryside.

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Energy and environment

Cooling appliances to put a strain on energy supplies

Academics from the University of Birmingham have warned that the rising demand in cooling appliances, such as air conditioning, could cause a 90 per cent increase in demand for energy by 2050. It is predicted that the use of cooling devices will occupy nearly 50 per cent of the world’s total target for CO2 emissions in 30 years’ time.
Academics also claim that by the middle of the 21st century, the world will be consuming more energy for cooling than for heating. These claims come amidst demands for more efficient cooling appliances, along with calls to think about thermal energy rather than electricity.

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UK Government plans to ban single use plastic products

Later this year the Government will hold a consultation on the potential ban of single use plastics, particularly plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
The consultation is part of a wider Government initiative that aims to meet the 25-year Environment Plan goal of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste. The Prime Minister will also call on all other Commonwealth countries to step up efforts to decrease plastic pollution.

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Scientists engineer new plastic-eating enzyme

An enzyme has been accidentally created by scientists at the University of Portsmouth after they attempted to analyse an existing plastic-eating enzyme called PETase.
The new enzyme can digest some of the most commonly polluting plastics much quicker than PETase, which scientists hope could provide a solution to one of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

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