Ugly rubbish: that’s what planning minister Nick Boles called most modern housing designs a few weeks back. But there are more important concerns too: Chris Brown from developer Igloo summed up housing issues nicely on his blog recently: ‘There is huge consensus that we need more homes and (with the exception of some, but not all, house builders) that they should be better designed. There is not yet consensus that this is more about the money than the planning system, or about where these homes need to be built. But perhaps if we can achieve a consensus that design quality is best determined by neighbourhood design panels and custom builders, and that we need to shift the basis of competition in house building to favour design quality, then we can focus on the real challenge of delivery.’
That’s exactly what we at RUDI, along with our partners, are aiming to do with our Start Small, Think Big initiative. We’re exploring new housing supply and delivery options in the context of a plot-based approach to placemaking.
Nick Boles picked up on the understanding that design quality is key to reducing the resistance many local communities feel towards new housing development, says Brown. ‘Housing isn’t just an Englishman’s castle, it is also the background against which we all live our lives and it affects our happiness and well-being.’
The planning system has proved itself excruciatingly poor at making such decisions, adds Brown. This perhaps is the biggest recommendation for delivering more, and better, housing. Create the environment where a custom build approach, with multiple home manufacturers customising homes on individual plots on each site, is the norm – as it is in most of the rest of the world.
People who design their own homes either individually or in groups, seem to achieve a vastly higher quality of design, of both homes and the spaces around them, than volume house builders, he says. Where these people are also from the local community their neighbours are also likely to be much happier with the result, and much more likely to encourage new development.
‘And this doesn’t just apply to those who can afford to buy their own homes. This approach is fundamental to organisations like Community Land Trusts (CLTs) where local people work together to deliver affordable housing for themselves and their neighbours. We should, advises Brown, seriously consider the statistics that show that small (2000 – 5000 home), neighbourhood-concentrated, housing associations outperform their larger rivals on service quality, along with the possibility that CLTs might produce a better development, better placemaking and a better community outcome.