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Architects are vital to good quality housing, Tory party conference told

Gavin Barwell MP
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Housing minister Gavin Barwell has stressed the importance of including architects in delivering high-quality homes

Speaking to the AJ following a panel debate at this week’s Conservative Party Conference, Barwell said: ‘The political pressure is particularly on quantity [of homes], but I want to make sure we also look at the quality.

‘As some of the panellists were suggesting, if the homes you’re building are beautiful homes, that helps sell to the public the need to build them.

‘The architectural profession is absolutely critical in that agenda. It is something we are going to look at absolutely.’

Barwell made the comments following a forum on housing – Building a Nation: How do we Build the Homes Britain Needs? – at the party conference in Birmingham, yesterday (2 October).

The minister’s remarks coincide with a letter in today’s Times urging ministers to ensure new housing is ‘beautiful’ and promotes health and wellbeing.

The letter was sent by advisers to the Backing Beauty Commission, which last year produced a report on behalf of the think tank ResPublica.

These include Urban Splash co-founder Tom Bloxham, Design Council trustee Wayne Hemingway, and former National Trust director general Fiona Reynolds.

The letter said that people in deprived areas were often starved of beauty.

‘We urge the government to address this injustice by giving communities the power and authority to create places that they consider beautiful,’ the letter stated.

‘Communities could for instance be supported to hold local design competitions to gauge their preferences ahead of any large new development, and the neighbourhood planning process should be strengthened.

‘Government must also pressure developers to raise their game, to look beyond the bottom line and acknowledge their social responsibility to help create a more beautiful public realm.’

During the party conference debate, the panellists discussed how the UK government would achieve its target of building 250,000 homes a year and 1 million by 2020.

According to DCLG figures, the last time the government achieved this 250,000 target was in the 1970s and early 80s, following the post-war slum clearances.

Barwell, who is MP for Croydon Central, said: ‘I want to see more homes of every single kind built in this country – more homes built for sale; I want to see more private rented sector accommodation go up; and I want more affordable rented accommodation going up.’

Fellow panel member Lewis Sidnick, director of corporate affairs at the National House Building Council (NHBC), also emphasised the necessity of building well-designed homes.

‘Our key message is: quantity is important, but quality is just as important,’ he said.

The panel, chaired by former housing adviser to Number 10 Alex Morton, also included Federation of Master builders chief executive Brian Berry, and Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott.

Berry said that the house-building shortage was in part caused by the ‘diminishing’ number of local SME construction workers, while Scott criticised the ‘complexity’ of the planning system in preventing work starting on site quickly.

The Conservative Party Conference will run until this Wednesday (5 October).




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