Report damns 75% of new housing development

Modern homes lacking sense of place
These new build homes in Hayes could have been built anywhere in the UK

A national report for the Place Alliance and countryside charity, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), has been published by UCL, in response to an audit of the design elements of new housing developments.

The audit surveyed 142 new housing developments built in England from 2007 onwards, comprising 21 in the South East, 20 in Greater London, 19 in East Midlands, 19 in East of England, 16 in South West, 14 North West, 12 Yorkshire & Humber, 11 North East and ten in the West Midlands. The sites selected were thought to be typical of the larger housebuilders and the schemes averaged 382 homes on average sites of 11 hectares.

In design terms, the report authors concluded that 20% of the housing developments should never have received planning permission as they were poorly designed and were contrary to advice from the National Planning Policy Framework. Another 54% of the developments should only have been granted following significant improvements to their design.

It was found that less affluent communities were as much as ten times more likely to have poorly designed housing developments built in their area, despite the fact that better design can easily be affordable. Among the design criticisms in these places were a lack of character and ‘sense of place’, that was not designed in the context of the development’s location.

The most heavily criticised design aspect was the dominance of access roads and lack of integration of car parking. Built housing developments were often focused on vehicles, with little regard for pedestrians or cyclists.

A Department of Transport survey of over 2,500 people concluded that public opinion was shifting more and more towards reducing car use for the benefit of public health and the environment. The latest public opinion survey showed an uplift of 13% from two years ago, with three quarters of respondents believing this to be important. The design of storage areas and bins was also lacking in built developments, and all these aspects together led to an unattractive environment in which to live, that would be likely have a negative effect on health and have social implications.

House builders will not really be concerned about design when they apply for planning when they are under pressure from their bonus-scheme-driven bosses and shareholders to generate profits by building large numbers of homes. The Local Government Association called on government to introduce a standard for house building that would ‘future-proof’ new homes to replace the current guidance that some councils have not updated since the 1970s.

Editor’s comment: Perhaps stop building on flood plains would help?

Highways authorities were also found to have neglected their remit to create a ‘sense of place’ within communities, instead focusing on providing roads that were cheap to build and maintain.

Chairman of the Place Alliance, Prof Matthew Carmona, said that: “Collectively, house builders, planning authorities and highways authorities need to significantly raise their game.”

The damning report called on the government, local authorities and house builders to immediately raise current standards and encourage builders to construct homes that were deserving of communities. At the heart of this, good design is critical to improving house shortages.

Despite all the negatives, many of the housing schemes were found to be better at providing safe and secure neighbourhoods that comprised a number of different home sizes.

Read the full report here.

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