Headlines: November 18th, 2005

Local planning authorities are facing a call today to have the confidence to reject bad design when they are considering applications for private housing developments. It comes from CABE – the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment – which says 94 per cent of new private housing built over the last three years in the north of England fails to measure up on design quality.The figure comes from the latest audit published today by CABE, which has reviewed the design quality of 93 schemes built by the 10 largest volume house builders in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber regions. The report follows a similar audit in London and the South East last year.The northern audit rates almost a quarter of the new housing as ‘poor’ and as further 70 per cent as ‘average’, leaving a mere 6 per cent as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. The figures, CABE says, mean there is no north-south divide on housing quality because 22 per cent of new homes in its earlier study were judged to be ‘poor’.

The Commission is making a number of recommendations to the building industry, to planning authorities and to Government, including urging councils to have the confidence to reject bad design in new developments. It also wants the house builders to appoint a ‘champion’ at board level with specific responsibility for delivering design quality and say the Government should take steps to ensure that design remains a central part of new planning.

CABE’s chief executive, Richard Simmons, says the latest findings show that the design quality of new housing is a national problem. “We are planning to build the largest number of new homes for decades and yet almost a quarter of them built in the last three years are judged to be ‘poor’ and the vast majority are simply ‘average’. It does not seem to be a question of ability. Every major volume house builder has won design-related awards in the last few years – so there’s proof that they all can do it. What we need is real commitment and ambition on the part of developers and local authorities alike to deliver great places for people to live,” he said.CABE believes the audit provides a critical opportunity to identify ways to improve the design quality of new housing and says responsibility for poor-quality development lies with both developers and local authorities.The organisation says its views are shared by residents of new homes. In a separate independent survey, 241 residents from 11 of the audited housing schemes were asked to rate the designs. The resulting report, “What it’s like to live there”, shows the overwhelming majority of those questioned consider where they live to be ‘average’. Key concerns were parking, and the quality of streets and public spaces, the layout of developments, and being able to find your way around and a frequent failure to create places with a real sense of character and identity.