Design failures bode ill for future housing

The latest audit of housing design by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) makes dispiriting reading.

Its finding that 94 per cent of homes built in northern England in the past three years fail to measure up to its standards is an indictment of house builders and local planning authorities for failing to promote quality development.

Even more worrying, the CABE research looks only at private homes, where customers exercise some degree of choice in whether the product meets their aspirations. Quality in a social housing sector ground down by even tighter margins and cheese-paring grant rules is likely to be worse still.

Furthermore, the analysis is confined to the efforts of the ten largest volume house builders, the same people who regularly win design awards when they put their minds to it.

Planners should not assume that they can pass the blame on to house builders' preference for cost-cutting standard designs. Resident feedback shows discontent over maze-like estate layouts, ill-considered parking, a lack of character and identity and inadequate community facilities - all well within the planner's purview.

The development industry faces a massive task in providing the homes the nation needs. But despite the urgency, skimping on quality is short-sighted. PPS1 is only just beginning to kick in, and planning authorities must heed its advice to reject poor design. Enhanced skills, good practice dissemination and more time for preparing and considering housing projects are crucial if we are to avoid building tomorrow's housing market renewal areas today.

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