The overall level of housebuilding activity in the country, the quality and extent of repair and maintenance and measures to encourage occupiers to improve their properties are all vital issues for the UK construction industry at large.
And, as housing problems and conditions have profound consequences for the nation as a whole, these matters are also important areas of social policy.
It was with the intention to gain an overall picture of the national housing stock that some fifty years ago the Government Central Housing Advisory Committee took the inspired decision to create the English Housing Survey.
At that time it looked at around 6,000 properties and pulled together data on, amongst other things, the number, type and tenure of homes in Britain.
Helpfully, it has been providing regular and detailed information on the nation’s homes ever since. The latest update – published in July – reveals the journey the housing market has been on for the last half century. Comparisons from then and now make interesting reading.
In 2005 the average number of snags per home was 62. Now you can expect to find at least 40 problems in a one bedroom property to well over 130 for a new four bedroom house.
For example, in 1967 a quarter of all homes lacked one (or more) of a bath or shower, an indoor WC, a wash basin and hot or cold water at three points. Today, these things are the absolute norm. One area of significant improvement in the past fifty years is energy efficiency.
In 1961, 76 per cent of homes used solid fuel for heating and very few had any form of insulation. By 2015 this had dropped to less than 1 per cent with the majority now enjoying central heating throughout the property. Insulation levels have risen to 98 per cent.
The relevance and importance of the survey has been seen on many occasions. Following the 1967 survey grants were provided to raise the standard of homes. Similarly in 2001, it helped shape the Decent Homes programme which had an impact on the social housing sector.
More recently it has helped inform the 2017 Housing White Paper. One statistic that probably stands out the most is the fact that of the 14.8 million homes in England in 1967 roughly 14.4 remain part of the housing stock today.
With such a slow turnover of stock it is clear that whatever we build today will need to have a long legacy. This highlights the vital importance of ensuring today new homes have good levels of build quality, longevity and adaptability.
Somewhat worryingly, this is increasingly not the experience of the vast majority of new home owners who point to a litany of building defects. In 2005 the average number of snags per home was 62. Now you can expect to find at least 40 problems in a one bedroom property to well over 130 for a new four bedroom house.
Many reasons are put forward for the houses being of a lower quality than those built even five years ago including the lack of skilled tradespeople, reduced warranty inspections, planning delays and of course unrealistic build programmes to meet Government targets.
There is also the suspicion that certain professionals within the industry are placing profit above quality. Let’s hope for all our sakes that by the time the next survey comes around, we haven’t seen the Nation’s own stock holding sacrificed on the altar of the share price of the UK’s biggest housebuilders.