Now it’s clear that the fee situation is out of control
Sanctuary’s fee terms mark a low point in the value housing associations put on design
Architects interested in driving up the quality of new housing are wondering if the move to simplify the rules imposed on developers will bear fruit. It may do, but in the meantime there’s a more pressing concern that arguably has had as much impact on driving down standards — and that’s the fee levels offered by housing associations.
Social housing has never paid well. Typically fees on offer hover around 4.5%. Despite this, architects continue to produce interesting work — most recently Mae at New Islington and Haworth Tompkins’ Peabody housing in Pimlico. The bigger picture is less rosy. At last count, most schemes in the affordable sector were rated as “average”.
Why this continues to be the case is hotly debated. Bottom drawers are stuffed with reports on this subject. Yet, even before public expenditure cuts led to a seismic shift in the way housing associations operate, quality has always been in short supply.
But the finger of blame is never pointed at fees. In the absence of a mandatory fee scale and with the general lack of work it’s accepted that architects will work for almost nothing.
The situation is now out of control. Some might argue it has been for a long time. Nil fee bids are nothing new. But the terms offered by Sanctuary — one of the biggest housing associations — to pay architects nothing in the event a scheme doesn’t go ahead and just 1.9% if it does, suggest the situation is about to get a whole lot worse.
If other housing providers follow, more practices will go under. And the impact on housing quality will be palpable: even the saintliest professional will be unable to do other than settle for the cheapest, simplest solution.
Angela Brady is right that Sanctuary’s odious framework needs to be boycotted. But to make a difference, the RIBA needs to put fees — or lack of them — back on the agenda.