Tuesday22 August 2017

Are the HCA’s proposed design standards good for housing?

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No, says Stewart Baseley, the cost of meeting them will slow the flow of much-needed new housing; while Richard Simmons argues that we need to know every penny is well spent


Stewart Baseley

Stewart BaseleyExecutive chairman, Home Builders Federation

Let’s be clear, developers are not looking to wriggle out of any responsibilities, particularly to home buyers. All consumer surveys, whether by the Home Builders Federaton, Cabe or the Office of Fair Trading, show very high levels of satisfaction with new home quality. The pressure to adopt higher standards comes from government and housing professionals.

While the industry does not oppose higher standards, such demands have to be realistic. Developers need to increase the number of new homes while ensuring they are affordable and meet the needs and aspirations of individual home owners and social housing providers.

Increasingly, however, sites are being made unviable by the policy and regulatory demands placed on them by central and local government and a variety of public agencies, be it for affordable housing, world-beating levels of energy efficiency, community infrastructure or many other requirements.

The proposed standards will cost, and so must be viewed in the context of policy demands on new housing. It will simply not be possible to meet all these demands, and deliver the required numbers of homes. There are real trade-offs between the proposed standards and the viability of future housing land supply.

And finally, Building for Life, which is part of the new standards, was not intended as a comparative site scoring scheme. It can best support quality as a tool to inform discussions between developers and planners — not as a quasi-regulatory checklist.


Richard Simmons

Richard SimmonsChief executive, Cabe

Times are hard. Isn’t this the wrong moment to introduce minimum design standards?

No. Now is when we should be clear about exactly what we want in return for our taxes. The HCA gives our money to private companies and registered social landlords. We want to know every penny is well spent — on homes good enough to justify public subsidy.

Like all good public sector clients, the HCA should be clear about the minimum specification it will pay for. When public funds are scarce, every penny is a precious investment. The industry shouldn’t expect to get tax dollars unless it delivers the spec. A minimum of 14 out of 20 under Building for Life leaves plenty of room to do even better; but it’s a guarantee that poorer people, for example, who can’t exercise market choice, will get decent homes in decent places.

These standards will also send a clear signal to landowners. As the market recovers, we don’t want to hand them a huge windfall. That leads to a loss of quality and a shortage of land for the basics: comfortable densities, adequate room sizes, good layouts, attractive public spaces, sustainability.

These standards will set a new baseline. They should ultimately apply to all housing. Citizens and customers have the right to expect that their interests will be put before those of any institutional investors in the City. That’s exactly what the HCA is starting to do with these standards.


Readers' comments (2)

  • I am currently writing my 3rd year dissertation on the subject of social housing provision. It has become abundantly clear to me that one of the reasons council housing has developed such a terrible reputation is the legacy of a numbers-driven housing policy introduced by the conservatives in the mid fifties, which prioritised short term targets for housing completions over quality. The resultant craze for shoddy, system built housing with no thought to the aesthetic impact on the residents or longevity has left the remaining council stock - after the best was cherry-picked by right-to-buyers - in a terrible state. It is shocking to think that despite the universal condemnation of the majority of social housing output in the 60s and 70s, professionals are still pushing for quantity over quality. Houses built last century have left a more enduring legacy than those built forty years ago, despite the vast leaps in building technology that have been achieved over the twentieth century. Surely, whatever the economic climate or demand for housing, the overriding concern is to build houses that can serve the population for more than forty years before they become a liability and a financial burden.

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  • Thom, dont be so naive. Althought the idealistic world that university can create around you is inspiring and promising that human nature does exist, Im afraid a more brutal truth awaits you in the real world of architecture. Money talks and people will walk to its beat. The difference between what is happening now with social housing is that there is more to exploit as more people are aware of its potential as the demand for housing increases.

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