Chris Brown: Delivering well designed homes and neighbourhoods

Photo: The Malings residential development on the banks of the river Ouseburn in Newcastle (credit: Igloo Regeneration)

Chris Brown from igloo Regeneration, reflects on the recent CaCHE event, ‘Delivering well-designed homes and neighbourhoods’, which took place in London on 9 December.

The holistic value, social, economic and financial, of building good quality homes and places is a topic of huge importance but one which is surprisingly under-researched given the £50 billion or so invested in it every year in the UK.

So the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence event on the subject was very welcome and well attended by a broad range of stakeholders including Government, but, sadly, excluding the big speculative housebuilders.

The quality of many of the homes and neighbourhoods produced by the speculative housebuilders in our unique housing delivery market structure are widely bemoaned but the true extent of this problem is little measured so it was frustrating to have pre-election purdah prevent Matthew Carmona from presenting the evidence from his recent research on this very issue. We’ll just have to wait for the Place Alliance launch on 21 January.

In the meantime, Matthew’s presentation of his literature review on his place value wiki was very welcome. This also forms part of the evidence base for the Quality of Life Foundation being set up by Sadie Morgan with the objective of improving quality of life through improving quality of place.

Combined with the CaCHE research into delivering design value, which was presented by Tom Kenny, we were given a master class of the available and emerging evidence.

My practitioner’s contribution was first to highlight the weaknesses in the financial valuation process by reference to igloo’s project at the Malings, on the banks of the Ouseburn in Byker in Newcastle, designed by Ash Sakula. The valuers completely failed to accurately estimate the impact of the high quality of the design (as judged by the Housing Design Awards where it was the overall winner) on the values of the homes, something that I suspect is an obstacle to good design in the development process.

My main focus though was on the non-financial values – social and environmental – being delivered in Swindon on the Oakfield scheme, designed by Metropolitan Workshop, PRP, LUC and Alan Baxter, that we are delivering with Nationwide Building Society where there is a focus on building community, together with delivering the Future Homes Standard environmental outcomes, five years ahead of the legislation.

Nationwide’s first move was to appoint a Community Organiser to work with the community to help enable them to address the challenges of a relatively deprived neighbourhood. This wouldn’t be seen by most speculative housebuilders as part of their business model but that is just because they define themselves in relation to financial profit, not social or environmental value.

For similar reasons, trying to maximise profit, speculative housebuilders tend not to build homes attractive to later life right sizers but Nationwide, with the objective of building society, were keen to create an intergenerational community by building a wider range of house types and tenures.

Nor would they build fabric first and replace gas boilers with air source heat pumps and PV panels unless the law made them.

My conclusion is that the motivations of the organisations that undertake development are probably the determining factor in the quality of the outcomes.

A financially driven organisation will deliver social and environmental outcomes to the minimum required by the law.

A community organisation, or in this case a mutually owned building society with a social purpose, will deliver much much more.

The policy conclusion must be that governments with the objective of trying to optimise social, environmental and economic outcomes should drive much harder to diversify the housing delivery and placemaking sector. There are many policy tools to achieve this and the main barrier appears to be a lack of political will to break with neoliberal economics, and the associated damaging negative externalities, despite the importance of housing and wellbeing as human rights.

Chris Brown is Executive Chair and Founder of igloo Regeneration

Views expressed are those of the author and may not represent the views of CaCHE.


Date: December 17, 2019 10:56 am


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