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Housing minister: good design can help solve the housing crisis

Gavin barwell
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Good design will help Britain deliver the hundreds of thousands of homes the country needs, the housing minister has said

Speaking at the UK government pavilion at MIPIM today (Wednesday), Gavin Barwell said that the poor design of housing was one of three significant barriers to solving the housing crisis alongside a lack of infrastructure accompanying new schemes and the lack of affordability.

He called for ‘amazing’ modern architecture as well as local vernacular.

‘On the design issue, I think it’s actually really important in getting supply… we have to change the politics of housebuilding,’ he said. ‘I’m talking about how local people react when someone says, “I want to build some homes in this area”. We need to change that dynamic so there is less resistance.’

The minister went on: ‘I think people welcome homes that are either amazing, innovative examples of modern architecture or that fit in with the local character of the area. What they don’t like are schemes that look like they could have been plonked down in any area of the country.’

Infrastructure and affordable homes are promoted through the planning system by financial mechanisms CIL and section 106 respectively.

But asked by the AJ what mechanism could be used to promote high quality architecture, Barwell said: ‘There are sections in the Housing White Paper to strengthen design policies and neighbourhood planning is a big part of that… I’m a big believer in neighbourhood planning. The more you empower people and are honest with them, the more likely you are to get a better outcome.

‘Clearly the architecture profession has a lot to offer in terms of getting these designs right. It’s an area where Britain has some world-class talent.’

Pressed on whether further regulation also had a part to play, the minister said design codes could be useful and added: ‘It’s not all be going to be done by the state but clearly we don’t want a complete free-for-all either.’

On the question of housing supply, Barwell also pledged to intervene personally with local planning authorities if developers and investors were blocked from developing new homes.

He said: ‘If you’ve got parts of the country where you want to build homes and are struggling to find land, come and see me and I can raise that with the relevant local authorities. I don’t want people who want to build unable to do so because they can’t find the sites.’

He also defended the lack of mention of housing in last week’s Budget.

‘The housing capital budget is doubling over the course of this Budget,’ he said in response to another question from the AJ. ‘I would challenge you to find another government programme that is doing that in the current financial climate.

‘What we don’t need is constant chopping and changing… I would argue that if you take the Autumn Statement and the white paper together, we’ve tried to set a framework for what we want to do over the next few years. We don’t need to come back in every Budget and Autumn Statement and be… amending policy.’

The UK government pavilion features models by leading UK architects including Grimshaw, Marks Barfield and Eric Parry.

Speaking at a separate session at MIPIM, London’s deputy mayor for housing James Murray also said good design was vital to tackling the housing crisis and called for a public debate about combining high density with high quality architecture.

‘Getting the design right is really essential for getting people’s consent,’ he said. ‘That’s not going to be easy. Given the enormity of London, different forms [of design] will be appropriate in different places. It’s a real job for us in the public sector and for the design and architecture community to show what well designed, attractive, high-density forms of residential development look like.

‘If we can have a public debate about that then Londoners can see that high density doesn’t have to be a 50-storey skyscraper… if we’re going to bring Londoners with us while we’re dramatically increasing the number of homes we’re going to be building, we have to get design right.’

At the Conservative Party Conference in November, Barwell told the AJ that the architectural profession was ‘absolutely critical’ to delivering quality homes.

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