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Housing debate: What the UK needs now

Architects weigh in on UK housing reform after the RIBA’s exhibition, ‘A Place to Call Home: Where We Live and Why’ opened last week

The RIBA’s new exhibition ‘A Place to Call Home: Where We Live and Why’ is guest-curated by property guru Sarah Beeny and forms part of the institute’s ongoing investigation into the quality of new housing. The RIBA’s Future Homes Commission is collecting evidence from across the industry and is expected to make its recommendations to the government this summer.

What reforms would most improve UK housing stock and what policies have been most effective in the past?

Rod Graham, director, Design Engine

As housing auditors for the HCA, we witnessed developers ignoring quality at the expense of profit. The HCA standards are there for a reason; they provide a benchmark to create housing that supports, not hinders, living.
What is needed is stronger control of quality, particularly at delivery stage. This needs to come from government initiatives filtered down to local authorities.As for past policies, the introduction of quality standards by the HCA has clearly raised the bar in terms of making better homes. The Code for Sustainable Homes seems to be struggling in many ways, as the ambition to create true sustainability through this initiative is open to far too many knocks along the way.

Alex Ely, partner, mae architects

VAT should be equalised on refurbishment. Environmentally, existing stock causes greater damage than new, and we urgently need to invest in upgrading our homes.The London Housing Design Guide is a policy that I hope will drive up standards in London. We are beginning to see regions adopt its requirements as well. 

Paul Karakusevic, co-founder, Karakusevic Carson

Ensuring all housing projects are taken to RIBA Stage D+ for planning applications would prevent the ‘dumbing down’ of designs by contractors post-planning. 

Phil Coffey, director, Coffey Architects

The current relationship between planning departments and architects is not optimal. Having an architect on the planning side would help communication and hence the outcome of all built schemes. Further to this, for new housing, planning restrictions in existing towns and cities need to be relaxed, with the development of difficult sites given priority.
Policies relating to the upgrade of existing homes and the construction of new ones, with regard to the most recent Part L requirements have been most effective. Conversely, Pathfinder led to difficulties in communities in the north and in London, the loss of development to garden land is a retrograde step to offering the housing we need. 

A return to philanthropy would offset rising land costs and provide affordable housing

Matt Bell, group head of external affairs, Berkeley Group

‘There is no silver bullet. Localism and deregulation make sense. The government needs to promote design and invest in talented, well-resourced planning authorities.PPS3 was a watershed. However VAT on refurbishment projects has never made sense.’

Ben Adams, director, Ben Adams Architects

‘The government should use compulsory purchase orders to release vacant urban land for exemplary housing developments. Re-urbanisation through brownfield development and re-zoning land use in suburban areas would lead to a better use of space.’

John McRae, director, ORMS Architecture Design

‘A return to philanthropy would offset rising land costs and provide affordable housing. The supermarket giants should look to Joseph Rowntree and George Cadbury for ways of giving back to the community.
Introduced in 2010, the London Housing Design Guide tackles the issue of minimum room standards, which developers will hopefully see as a guide, but still design beyond it. The least effective policy appears to be the 50 per cent affordable requirement within the 2004 London Plan, which has stifled development in the capital.

Roz Barr, founder, Roz Barr Architects

‘A better mix of housing types, that respond to the site, context and infrastructure of existing towns and cities rather than creating suburbs that have no relevance to the landscape or to city and town centres. Also, scrapping the concept of ‘the micro-flat’ and thinking of the qualitative volume of space by looking at, for example, original tenement housing in Glasgow.’

A Place to Call Home runs until 28 April at the RIBA, London W1 [the exhibition is part of the RIBA’s Home Season which runs alongside the institute’swider HomeWise campaign]

 

Matthew OllierDirector, Ollier Smurthwaite Architects

Educating the public about good design. The customer needs to be telling the developer what they want rather than settling for what they are given. UK homeowners are not as design literate as our European neighbours.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Paul McGrath

    Not one architect has addressed who meets the cost of raising the bar and increasing standards. Is that because they have no interest in keeping costs down and a vested interest in keeping costs high? It's either the purchaser or the Government that pays in the end and both seem to be treated as limitless sources of money.

    The clear backing amongst architects (and the propaganda cited in the exhibition) for the introduction of mandatory space standards (and increased costs which is ignored in the exhibition) seems solely based on developers making a profit from housing. If true this seems an ideological stance to adopt not an expedient one.

    Everyone recognises the aims are laudable but to be credible 'developers' cannot be blamed and vilified. After all, the majority of us want a bigger home to live in given the choice but not everyone can afford it.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Paul McGrath

    Not one architect has addressed who meets the cost of raising the bar and increasing standards. Is that because they have no interest in keeping costs down and a vested interest in keeping costs high? It's either the purchaser or the Government that pays in the end and both seem to be treated as limitless sources of money.

    The clear backing amongst architects (and the propaganda cited in the exhibition) for the introduction of mandatory space standards (and increased costs which is ignored in the exhibition) seems solely based on developers making a profit from housing. If true this seems an ideological stance to adopt not an expedient one.

    Everyone recognises the aims are laudable but to be credible 'developers' cannot be blamed and vilified. After all, the majority of us want a bigger home to live in given the choice but not everyone can afford it.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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