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Barbara Brownlee: It is crucial we prioritise design quality to persuade others

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Barbara Brownlee, Thurrock Council director of housing, discusses the local authority’s plans to deliver 18,500 new homes by 2021

Describe Gloriana and your role on the project?
Gloriana is a wholly owned commercial vehicle which will build affordable rent and sale homes of high quality. I am responsible for its development and as well as being director of housing for the council I am also a director on the board of Gloriana. Gloriana was launched because housing development had stalled in Thurrock where there are 8,000 planning permissions granted but not being built out. It is not a vehicle to compete with the market but rather to kick start and develop where others will not.

How important is design quality in Thurrock Council’s plan to deliver 18,500 new homes on land it owns by 2021?
Design quality is crucial to Thurrock, historically housing and indeed a lot of public realm has been of poor quality, the market is not strong and the prevailing culture has been to build as cheaply as possible as sale prices will be low. The council is completely committed to raising standards across the board and acknowledges that the perceptions of the borough need to change. There is a lot of cheap land within the borough within an extraordinary location, 18 miles of river frontage, brilliant transport links to London valuable fen and marshlands and historical villages as well as 3 major ports, factories and power generation sites.  The council knows it is crucial to prioritise design quality in its own house building to persuading others that adding to the cost of a house is worth it because the extra will be recouped in the higher sale price. We are prepared to invest heavily ourselves, with our own resources to both start this process of price uplift and to show others what can be achieved.

Which architects are you currently working with?
We are currently working with Bell Philips Architects and Tranter McManus Architects. We have set up our own frameworks to bring in other practices and have invested in bringing  John Quale – an architect from Virginia University USA – to the borough.

What opportunities will there be for architects in the future?
We are both buying further sites as well as developing existing sites – there are many opportunities. We have frameworks and will use individual procurements for some sites.

How will you maintain design quality throughout the Gloriana programme?
We control this programme so we will ensure design quality is prioritised. The easier some of these properties sell, and the higher prices they command the better it is for the council so design will be maintained.





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