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Social housing crisis 'not fault of architects', says Peabody

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Architects have lost confidence in the design of social housing, when failures in fact can be largely attributed to poor management and a change in the social composition of housing.

That's according to Dickon Robinson, director of development at the Peabody Trust, who was speaking at last week's 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' debate on social housing, sponsored by Peabody.

'Future generations looking back at the latter half of the twentieth century will be amazed that the creative effort that went into post-war regeneration was so rapidly rejected,' said Robinson. But architects, he argued, are being used as scapegoats. 'Increasingly housing managers see tenants as victims of the system,' he said. 'Architects are an easy target.'

In fact, he believes, the problems stem from two sources. 'Social landlords before the war were quite choosy about who they housed - disruptive people stayed in the slums.' Now, he said, 'politically correct housing managers have rejected the paternalistic behaviour of their predecessors. They house by need, not by list'. In addition, institutions such as local rent offices and dedicated caretakers have been withdrawn. He argued that although a small number of people will behave badly whatever the circumstances, 'there are many who are potentially challenging who become worse if the quality of management becomes inadequate'.

He therefore criticised the government's new deal for communities for suggesting that 70-80 per cent of the money available should go on capital expenditure, and only 20-30 per cent on revenue. 'We don't spend enough on housing management and maintenance,' he said.

He argued that 'well-managed social housing in reasonably attractive locations has retained its appeal', and said that throughout their history 'social and private housing have followed separate paths until recently, when social housing seems to have lost its confidence'. He added, 'Urban design has regressed as an anti-urban sentiment has grown.'

And he was adamant that the solution to unpopular and socially difficult housing is not to demolish it. 'Tearing down buildings meant for a 60- year life after only 30 years is unsustainable,' he said. 'It is ironic that private developers in London can't get enough land, and meanwhile housing associations are demolishing high-rise. It would make more sense to sell it to the private sector.'

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