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Resignations follow RIBA’s ‘shoebox’ housing report

Key members of the RIBA’s housing group have resigned following the publication of a contentious report accusing housebuilders of creating ‘shameful shoebox homes’

Design for Homes chief executive David Birkbeck and Homes and Communities Agency head of design and sustainability Jane Briginshaw both resigned from the advisory group following the report. An HCA spokesperson confirmed that Briginshaw left because the HCA questioned whether the RIBA campaign was the ‘most effective way of influencing housing partners’.

Birkbeck said he left when he read the institute’s ‘shameful shoe-box’ description of contemporary housing. He said: ‘That was the moment any chance of a ‘national conversation’, as RIBA promised, died.’

The departures came amid a backlash against the document – which claimed the average new three bedroom home was 8 per cent smaller than the recommended minimum size –led by leading figures in the house building industry.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation described the report as a ‘missed opportunity’.

He said: ‘We’ll happily work with RIBA and others but if they are serious about the future of housing in this country they must support the proposed National Planning Policy Framework and ensure that they fully understand the pressures on land and viability that home builders face every day.’

Ben Derbyshire, HTA Architects’ managing director added: ‘[Harry] Rich’s aggressive headline grabbing line is massively unhelpful to those of us trying to work constructively with the housebuilders.’

London mayor Boris Johnson commented: ‘In London we want to see new developments that enrich the capital’s architectural vernacular and that will be admired and cherished for decades to come.

‘This is why, despite challenging economic times, we have successfully introduced clear guidance to improve the design standards of new developments to ensure that homes have the space people need to lead happy, fulfilling lives. It is vital that we build more homes to boost the economy, but as RIBA’s campaign rightly points out, we must not compromise on quality and design to do so.’

Pressure on the government to stand down over its proposed National Planning Policy Framework which contains a presumption in favour of sustainable development meanwhile continued to intensify with the Department for Communities and Local Government publishing a myth-busting guide aimed to quell public concerns.

It was also said a vogue for oversized luxury furniture was more to blame for the cramped conditions of contemporary housing.  

Cardiff University cultural historian Judi Leach told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We are becoming an increasingly consumerist society.

‘People are buying more things and so they need more space. King-size beds are being bought instead of doubles.’

The RIBA report examined 3,418 three-bedroom homes at 71 English sites.  

RIBA’s chief Executive Harry Rich said on Wednesday: ‘Our new research confirms, thousands of cramped houses - shameful shoe box homes - are being churned out all over the country, depriving households of the space they need to live comfortably and cohesively.

‘At a time when the Government, housebuilding industry, economists and housebuyers and renters are concerned about whether we are building enough new homes in the UK, it might seem odd to suggest that the focus should move to thinking about the quality of those homes. And yet this is the very time to do so. In a rush to build quickly and cheaply we risk storing up unnecessary problems for the future.’

An HCA spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that Jane Briginshaw has stepped down as the HCA’s representative on RIBA’s Housing Group. The key reason for the agency’s decision was that we didn’t believe that the space campaign being run by RIBA was the most effective way of influencing housing partners to improve the design of homes and neighbourhoods.  

‘However, the HCA continues to be very supportive of the work of RIBA and welcomes initiatives to help drive up the quality of homes and places, in particular its focus on consumers. We are working closely with our partners to deliver new homes through our Affordable Homes Programme, which applies a series of standards, including minimum requirements for space. The HCA obtains systematic feedback from residents to ensure that we improve levels of satisfaction and deliver homes that meet their needs.

RIBA Housing Group chair David Levitt said: ‘The RIBA Housing Group has been involved in the direction of the HomeWise campaign to build better homes for Britain and members of the group are keen to collate evidence for the Future Homes Commission to examine. I encourage other RIBA members, led by the new RIBA President Angela Brady, and the wider housing industry to read the Case for Space report, follow the campaign, and get involved and would like to thank everyone who has already expressed their support.’

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