Cross-party fury after agency bails out housing schemes scoring 1.5 out of 20 for design

A cross-party group of politicians denounced the Homes & Communities Agency this week for wasting public money on “grotty” private sector housing.

Following a BD Freedom of Information request, the HCA admitted that 27 of the projects handed £360 million under round one of its Kickstart stimulus programme had scored five or less out of 20 according to the industry’s Building for Life quality standard, with two of them scoring just 1.5.

This follows BD’s revelation last month that a Cabe review had found that 54% of the 136 bailed-out schemes were “very high risk” on design grounds.

The first round of Kickstart funded 10,000 homes and Labour peer and former architecture minister Alan Howarth accused the HCA of ignoring its statutory duty to promote high-quality design, along with Cabe’s advice.

Alan Howarth
“I don’t think there can be any excuse for the HCA sanctioning a new wave of grotty housing”
Alan Howarth

Howarth helped draw up the legislation that gave the quango this duty and he promised to hold it to account by raising the matter in the House of Lords next month.

His clarion call was echoed by two members of the communities and local government select committee, the Labour MP Clive Betts and his Tory counterpart, Paul Beresford, who called on the committee to carry out its own investigation.

“I don’t think there can be any excuse at all for the HCA sanctioning a new wave of grotty housing,” Howarth said. “How they are held to account is a very good question.

“These [Building for Life] criteria are common sense criteria and if projects are scoring only 1.5 or two, something has gone pretty badly wrong.”

He added: “To say economic factors have won out isn’t an acceptable excuse. If design standards are very low, we will have heavy maintenance and replacement costs in the future.”

Beresford said Kickstart should be a job done “properly or not at all”.

“This money belongs to the beleaguered tax-payer, to say nothing of the poor people who will have to live in this housing,” he said.

The RIBA, meanwhile, branded the scores “disgraceful” and said it was crucial the HCA recognised this before completing the £550 million second round of Kickstart.

“A scheme that scores five or less is appalling,” former president Sunand Prasad said. “The HCA is actually applying design standards far lower than that of its predecessors [English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation].”

“Everyone would accept the pressures on the HCA to spend this money but the scale of the shortcomings is astounding.”

HCA chief executive Bob Kerslake said the agency had to balance its “commitment” to design with the need to help the stricken house building industry and provide much-needed homes.

The Building for Life assessment produced by Cabe was important, he said, but the HCA attached equal significance to the work of its local teams with their on-the-ground knowledge.