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South-east mobilises for housing quality improvements

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The chief executive of the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) is bidding to rid his region of 'Noddyland' and 'Brookside' housing and usher in a new era of architectural excellence by staging a new housing competition and creating a list of 30 or more 'preferred' practices to work with on future developments.Anthony Dunnett, the former English Partnerships boss, also wants to set up three more architecture centres across the region.

Dunnett, who is a member of Lord Rogers' Urban Task Force, aims first to run a competition and set 'a new typology for housing' on a site at St Mary's Island at Chatham Maritime in Kent.

'We must challenge the housebuilding industry to take on what the commercial market has seen as standard practice, ' he told a select group of developers and architects at Cannes' MIPIM property conference last week . 'We want to br ing in the best from across the g lobe .'

Dunnett is concerned to address a quality issue in the residential sector, given housing growth targets of 45,000 homes per year in the region imposed by the government.

The competition details are at present sketchy, but SEEDA wants it to throw up a by-product - a panel of 3040 worldwide partnerships to look at a variety of housing, commercial and leisure projects. 'There's a significant amount of work and we need a huge bank of partners from the architectural community, ' he said. 'We want to be able to ca l l on those who've proved the ir wor th to take on this agenda.' The architects will initially be asked through the competition to come up with affordable and innovative housing product to cope with the shift to single-person dwellings instead of the 'Noddy vernacular' and 'Brookside homes' Dunnett feels are being 'scattered across the country.'

The competition, which will be launched with full details in June, concerns a site surrounded by water which already features 1300 homes built by Countryside Properties. SEEDA's project director Justin Elcombe said: 'Our call for action is to encourage and entice top quality architects to revise the masterplan and evolve existing housing there into a more attractive sustainable environment.' He cited projects such as Glasgow's Homes for the Future as examples of projects where people 'will pay a premium' to get 'individual' homes.

Five architects will be selected for a shortlist and paid honoraria to develop their work, but in addition around 30 teams plucked from the entry will be offered 'quality marks'. SEEDA will only work with firms able to show them the mark and hopes they will help achieve its higher than average target 65 per cent brownfield development for the region. DEGW's Frank Duffy and Richard Burdett from the LSE will chair the competition panel.

'We're setting a standard and putting a stake in the ground, ' said Dunnett.'We've got to attract the interest of leading and emerging practices. We've got a region to build and we want to do it with the architectural community.'

Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment chairman Stuart Lipton endorsed SEEDA's plans.

'We want this to be a holistic process and the RDAs are very important to us as significant players in the field, ' he said.'I'm encouraged by their patronage of architecture.'

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