Audit Condemns Most New Housing As ‘Substandard’

The design of new housing developments in England is overwhelmingly “poor” or “mediocre”, according to a national audit conducted by University College London (UCL) for countryside charity Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE).

The audit reviewed more than 140 housing schemes built across England since 2007 and found one in five should have been refused planning permission because the design was inconsistent with the guidelines in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Over half (54%) of developments should have had ‘significant improvements’ made to their designs with flaws including schemes dominated by access roads, a lack of waste storage facilities, and insufficient parking and high quality green spaces, the report said.

However, the report found that the homes scored relatively highly for safety and security, and for providing a variety of house sizes.

A national tragedy

Matthew Carmona, the report’s author and professor of the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL, has called the situation a national tragedy. “The pressure to build,” he said, “is in a sense totally right. We need more homes, but more homes of good quality that people can thrive in and where communities can develop.”

The number of homes built in England exceeded 170,000 in the year to June, according to government data, an 11-year high, boosted by a ‘Help to Buy’ scheme that offers buyers of new-build homes a government equity loan. The scheme is designed to help buyers with a small deposit gain access to mortgage financing.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation (HBF) a representative body, said: “The vast majority of new home buyers are happy with their home and the wider environment surrounding it.”

Social housing worst affected

The audit found less affluent communities were 10 times more likely to acquire badly designed homes, even when a better design was affordable. The quality of the UK’s social housing has been under intense scrutiny since the fire which killed 71 residents at London’s Grenfell Tower in 2017.

The inquiry last year found that combustible cladding on the building’s exterior had contributed to the scale of the disaster.

The UK has suffered a shortage of social housing since the 1980s, when the government allowed council tenants to buy their homes at rock-bottom prices without replacing the stock. Since then, years of underbuilding, rising rents and cuts to social housing benefits have exacerbated the situation.

A spokeswoman for the UK’s Ministry of Housing said: “There is no excuse for shoddy design. Developers are expected to ensure new homes are well designed and the new national design guide sets out how beautiful environments can be created, ensuring that only homes of good quality are built.”

Housebuilding industry’s reactions

Brian Berry, CEO of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “SME housebuilders have to compete on quality rather than volume, so it is not surprising that a broken housing market dominated by a handful of major developers is failing to deliver what home owners want and need.”

Félicie Krikler, director of architects Assael Architecture, commented: “Developers must pay attention to what a community wants and needs to create high-quality, thriving housing developments. Our housing should be supporting low-carbon, dense forms of transport, not locking in road use for decades to come.”

But Ben Johnston, director of property app Houso, claimed: “We believe the car will still be an important factor in the design of housing schemes for years yet, especially in view of cuts to public transport services.”

David Jones, land director of Stonegate Homes, commented that although new housing schemes often appear to be dominated by roads, this was the result of the requirement to provide sufficient car parking and traffic calming. “Local residents,” he said, “who oppose developments in their neighbourhood often cite traffic generation as an objection.

“Increased traffic,” he claimed, “can always be accommodated and does not make a development unviable. It just leads to more ‘street furniture’; signage and road markings that make the development appear ‘dominated by roads’.”

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