Concern move will damage relationships with housebuilders

Leading housing architects have launched a scathing attack on the RIBA over its housing space standards campaign, which they fear could damage relationships between practices and housebuilders.

RIBA chief executive Harry Rich launched a campaign last week calling for action on space standards, coining the term ‘”shameful shoeboxes”, which he said were being “churned out all over the country”.

But the move has prompted a backlash from RIBA members who raised concerns that it could alienate housebuilders who work with architects.

HTA director Ben Derbyshire, who has worked with mass housebuilders Barratt Homes and Taylor Wimpey, called the campaign “extraordinarily irresponsible”. “There is absolutely no doubt that the intention was to create a furore,” he said.

Alex Ely, partner at Mae Architects and co-author of the London Housing Design Guide, echoed this view, adding that architects have been marginalised in the housebuilding industry. “The tide was turning,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is risk that.”

The Home Builders Federation pointed to work done between architects and housebuilders to improve design standards, and warned that “sensationalising of issues cannot be allowed to undermine this”.

Meanwhile, RIBA housing group members have said they raised concerns with Rich about the campaign before its launch, but claim they were ignored. Since then, two members have resigned and others are considering their future with the group.

Design for Homes chief executive David Birkbeck was one of the members to resign. He said: “You have to ask: is an attack on a client group in the interest of RIBA members?”

Stephen Proctor, director at Proctor & Matthews, said he was considering resignation. “We work very closely with housebuilders to improve the quality of housing but it’s a collaborative effort. It’s not my position to alienate the profession.”

The row comes at a time of growing concern over the role that advisory groups play in determining RIBA policy. A report by former BDP chairman Richard Saxon, including a review of this issue, was due to be considered by the institute this week. The RIBA declined to comment.