Housing minister Grant Shapps has urged the Design Council to end the domination of England’s suburbs by ‘identikit Legoland homes’
In a letter to the council, which recently merged with CABE, Shapps asks it to encourage architects and developers to design houses reflecting the character of their local area.
Shapps said: ‘We all recognise the bog standard, identikit Legoland homes that typify some new developments – all looking exactly the same on streets that could be anywhere in the country.
‘I want more developers to think outside these Legoland designs and consider how the expertise, knowledge and materials that are locally available could be best used to reflect the identity of their surrounding neighbourhood.’
A Design Council spokesman said design review would be used to address Shapps’ concerns.
‘One of the Design Council’s priorities for the next few months is looking at the ways we can help communities work with developers to create really good quality housing,’ he said.
‘There’s a huge role for design review at a national and local level, as well as enabling programmes to help this flourish.’
A Home Builders Federation spokesman said: ‘Under Shapps’ localism proposals each local authority will be able to decide what gets built in their area – that’s the beauty of localism.
‘Our surveys demonstrate that customers are happy with the homes that are being delivered.’
Ruth Reed, RIBA president, said: ‘It is encouraging to see Government Ministers berating the banality of many new homes and challenging the house development industry to up its game. The RIBA agrees with them - housebuilders can and should do better.
‘The development industry has tended to present a false trade-off between the quality and quantity of homes being built. We all deserve to come home to a house we can be proud of; one which is built well and offers sufficient space for us to live our lives comfortably. Well designed buildings, particularly our homes, improve our health, wellbeing and happiness. Good housing design must meet the needs of people but it should also enhance an area’s character. Although there is a growing number of innovative, exemplar housing schemes, the bulk of the new-build housing is of an unacceptably poor quality and shows little regard for its surrounding area.
‘However it is wrong to imply that architects are complacent about improving the delivery of good housing. There’s nothing that depresses architects more than the seeing the soulless, drab, identikit estates being built in our towns and cities. And whilst architects are involved in mass housing design, the reality is that those who work for major housebuilders face severe constraints. The traditional housebuilder business model relies on pattern-book designs, which can be quickly and easily rolled out across the country, often with little consideration to the local context or the needs of the people who will live in them.
‘The lack of empowerment that local communities have had on planning decisions to date, and indeed consumers have had on the types of houses available to them, has let to the cheaply replicated housing models Grant Shapps has rightly criticised. Housing is essentially about people and the essence of good design is to meet people’s (and society’s) needs. Let’s hope that localism really does bring communities, developers and architects closer together to deliver better housing.’