Audit slams ‘a decade of disastrous housing design’ in England

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housing design, housing developments
© Rudmer Zwerver

The design of new housing schemes in England is ‘mediocre’ and ‘poor’, leading to ‘a decade of disastrous housing design’, according to research conducted by UCL for CPRE and the Place Alliance

The report titled, ‘A housing design audit for England’, an audit of over 140 housing developments built across England since 2007, discovered that one in five of these schemes should have been refused planning permission as their poor design was contrary to advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework.

An additional 54% should not have been granted permission without significant improvements to their design having been made first.

75% of the new housing development should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design.

The housing design audit also revealed that:

  • Less affluent communities are ten times more likely to get worse design, even though better design is affordable;
  • Low-scoring housing developments scored especially badly in terms of character and sense of place, with architecture that does not respond to the context in which it is located;
  • The worst reported aspects of housing design include developments dominated by access roads and the poor integration of storage, bins and car parking, leading to unattractive and unfriendly environments with likely negative health and social implications;
  • Some gains have been made – developments scored relatively highly for safety and security and were also typically successful at integrating a variety of house sizes.

A decade of disastrous housing design

Professor Matthew Carmona (The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL) chair of the Place Alliance, said: “Research has consistently shown that high-quality design makes new residential developments more acceptable to local communities and delivers huge social, economic and environmental value to all, yet we are still failing in this regard across England.

“Planning authorities are under pressure to deliver new homes and are therefore prioritising numbers in the short-term over the long-term negative impacts of bad design. At the same time, housebuilders have little incentive to improve when their designs continue to pass through the planning system. Some highways authorities, meanwhile, do not even recognise their role in creating a sense of place for communities.

“Collectively, housebuilders, planning authorities and highways authorities need to significantly raise their game. This can’t come soon enough”.

Tom Fyans, campaigns and policy director at CPRE, the countryside charity, added: “The Government has presided over a decade of disastrous housing design and must raise standards immediately. This research is utterly damning of larger housebuilders and their failure to build the homes our communities deserve. They must significantly raise their game if we are to create the sorts of places that future generations will feel proud to call home. It’s no wonder so many of our communities feel apprehensive towards new development when the design is so poor. That’s why significantly improving the quality of design is central to addressing the housing shortage.”

Recommendations from the audit

The audit proposed a range of recommendations for the government, housebuilders and local government.

Amongst these the research found:

  • Strong benefits in designing at higher densities than is the norm.  The government should be more prescriptive in seeking less sprawling densities, as more compact developments tend to be designed more sensitively. It should require highways design that helps to create high quality, characterful places.
  • Housebuilders need to drive greater ambition across the sector in order to advance a more ethical approach to the design of development that prioritises the long-term social wellbeing of their customers and the health of the environment at large.
  • Local authorities need to use proactive design codes – design parameters established for each site – and design review processes for all major housing schemes.
  • Local authorities also need to end the current disconnect between highways design and planning aspirations when it comes to new housing areas.

CPRE and the Place Alliance suggest that developments which do not meet minimum requirements should be refused on design grounds and this should be supported, without question, by Government regardless of progress towards meeting housing targets in the area.

You can view the full report here.

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