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Shelagh Grant: 'Quality is about liveability'

Shelagh Grant, the chief executive at The Housing Forum – a network for those building new homes – speaks about why liveability is the ‘quality’ game changer

One of aims is to improve the nation’s housing stock. What is your organisation doing to ensure that architects and architecture is at the heart of that debate?
We’ve an active collaborative approach and we lobby, produce quality reports and hold workshops on new and existing housing. Our architect members work side by side with builders, contractors clients and product manufactures  We’ve major leading architectural practices within our membership [such as PRP] who see that our knowledge of housing markets and the potential of  new product development brings exceptional benefits to their organisations. Our joint working on issues like BIM , housing standards and  master planning has  regularly been led by architects  working as a team with housing businesses.       

Your call ‘to raise the quality and quantity of new homes’ echoes the AJ’s More Homes Better Homes campaign.  What can you do to convince the mass housebuilders that quality matters?
Many leading house builders are already convinced of the appeal of design quality in the market - but quality is also about ‘liveability’and cost in use. We encourage builders to help customers understand the benefits of well-designed and cheaper to run homes. Home performance labelling, especially on space and energy use, is the way  forward.

What one thing could the government do to help kick start good quality mass home building?
Government has to be decisive and ambitious, urgently committing to building more homes at affordable prices. It needs to create this mechanism through a National Housing Investment Bank - taking small and large savings, and possibly tax incentives for employers providing housing- and the bank provides finance for building  on a regional basis.

You work with a very male-dominated board (2 of the 21 board members are female) in a male-dominated sector.  What could the housing sector do to attract more women?
The sector already attracts and retains many highly effective women and The Housing Forum has a number of women CEOs and directors in membership from -builders, housing associations, suppliers and professionals. But the long hours culture works against women who may be less ambitious to move jobs if terms are less flexible. Offering more flexible working practices is certainly one way to attract more women. The encouragement of seeing other women executives confident and doing well is the best tonic - so thank you for the chance to raise the profile of women in housing.’

Your organisation has thrown its weight behind the Red Tape Challenge (to consolidate housing standards). How successful do you think the campaign has been?
It’s helped  promote the case that consumers would benefit from clear and helpful information on the major characteristics of their home. It has also stimulated a longer term benefit - which is that this particular challenge had a huge response with so much of the industry wanting to be involved in proposing improvements. It was a reversal of the traditional ‘top down ‘ approach and one success I see is this level of industry involvement continuing.

Which architects and or housing schemes do you personally most admire and why?
A tough question, as we are lucky to have many the leading housing practices within membership. But, one scheme ticks a lot of boxes for me - Willows Close at Newbury by Hunters for Sovereign Housing Association- we start with good quality homes for older people , easy to run and with high satisfaction levels, and  the overall design completely lifts the appearance of  a rather ordinary street  and tops this off with fascinating public art.

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