Having spent many fruitless hours trying to track down a mortgage for a flat in the Brunswick Centre, I feel I should welcome the BRE's initiative to ease the process of obtaining finance for unconventional properties (page 43). The idea is to establish a set of criteria designed to reassure insurers and mortgage lenders that a given example of 'innovative design' is, in reality, no different from a good old-fashioned house.
It is a strategy that has a certain insular logic. But it is also one which suggests a very short-term view. To argue that, for example, innovative housing should be able to be repaired with locally available skills is to assume that the supply of skills is both quantifiable and fixed. But trades always spring up in response to demand. A key advantage of the innovation process is that the creation of demand for new materials and skills creates the conditions that can transform the industry as a whole.
The strategy also ignores the basic point that a 'failure' to provide certain benefits of conventional housing stock may be an acceptable trade-off if the opportunity cost is sufficiently high. The fact that it takes a little more effort to get your windows fixed might be made just about bearable if you know that the space you occupy is uniquely suited to your lifestyle, or that your fuel bills are surprisingly low.
Perhaps most dangerously, the strategy encourages the financial sector in its belief that lending can be done by rote. To mortgage lenders, the fact that the Brunswick Centre was council-owned, concrete-built and more than four storeys high, meant that it was instantly dismissed as being impossible to resell - despite welldocumented evidence of that delicate micro-system, which is unique to iconic Brutalist housing projects, whereby council tenants make a quick buck by selling their homes to architects.
The argument that the twin blessings of iconic status and a central Bloomsbury location might be seen as extenuating circumstances actually cuts little ice with the legions of call-centre operatives trained to pass judgement from far-flung reaches of the British Isles.