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New housing design in England overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 13:00

The design of new housing developments in England is overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’, with less-affluent communities the worst affected, according to a national audit conducted by UCL for CPRE, the countryside charity, and the Place Alliance.

A housing design audit for England reveals that 75% of new housing development should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design.

The report, an audit of over 140 housing developments built across England since 2007, found that one in five of these developments should have been refused planning permission outright as their poor design was contrary to advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework. A further 54% should not have been granted permission without significant improvements to their design having been made first.

The audit also found that:

  • Less affluent communities are ten times more likely to get worse design, even though better design is affordable;
  • Low-scoring housing developments scored especially badly in terms of character and sense of place, with architecture that does not respond to the context in which it is located;
  • The worst reported aspects of design include developments dominated by access roads and the poor integration of storage, bins and car parking, leading to unattractive and unfriendly environments with likely negative health and social implications;
  • Some gains have been made - schemes scored relatively highly for safety and security and were also typically successful at integrating a variety of sizes of house;

Professor Matthew Carmona (The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL) Chair of the Place Alliance, who led the research, said: “Research has consistently shown that high quality design makes new residential developments more acceptable to local communities and delivers huge social, economic and environmental value to all, yet we are still failing in this regard across England.

Planning authorities are under pressure to deliver new homes and are therefore prioritising numbers in the short-term over the long-term negative impacts of bad design. At the same time, house builders have little incentive to improve when their designs continue to pass through the planning system. Some highways authorities, meanwhile, do not even recognise their role in creating a sense of place for communities.  

Collectively, house builders, planning authorities and highways authorities need to significantly raise their game. This can’t come soon enough”.

Tom Fyans, Campaigns and Policy Director at CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The Government has presided over a decade of disastrous housing design and must raise standards immediately. This research is utterly damning of larger house builders and their failure to build the homes our communities deserve. They must significantly raise their game if we are to create the sorts of places that future generations will feel proud to call home. It’s no wonder so many of our communities feel apprehensive towards new development when the design is so poor. That’s why significantly improving the quality of design is central to addressing the housing shortage."

Recommendations from the research

The audit proposed a range of recommendations for the Government, house builders and local government. Amongst these the research found strong benefits in designing at higher densities than is the norm. The Government should be more prescriptive in seeking less sprawling densities, as more compact developments tend to be designed more sensitively. It should require highways design that helps to create high quality, characterful places.

Housebuilders need to drive greater ambition across the sector in order to advance a more ethical approach to the design of development that prioritises the long-term social wellbeing of their customers and the health of the environment at large.

Local authorities need to use proactive design codes – design parameters established for each site – and design review processes for all major housing schemes. Local authorities also need to end the current disconnect between highways design and planning aspirations when it comes to new housing areas.

Schemes which do not meet minimum requirements should be refused on design grounds and this should be supported, without question, by the Government regardless of progress towards meeting housing targets in the area.

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