Boris Johnson’s housing design standards won’t be as effective as simply giving consumers tools to make an educated choice at the point of sale

This interim draft of the London Housing Design Guide seems to be intended as a design brief for developments supported by the London Development Agency or built on their land. 

It sets out standards of design and procurement processes that will be familiar to anyone who has responded to a brief from the HCA’s Exemplar Development Programme. 

It reflects high standards and good practice. It is entirely appropriate that the mayor should set the standards for housing built with public money or on public land under his control.

The coalition government needs to keep an eye on what is going on in London, though, to make sure Boris does not get out of kilter with its radical approach to policy-making. 

Nick Clegg’s, ‘Your Freedom’ website invites proposals for ways to reduce bureaucracy and make running of business simpler. Vince Cable, has established a new ‘challenge group’ seeking innovative approaches to achieving social and environmental goals in a non-regulatory way.  Nowhere is there more opportunity for this approach to add value than in the application of standards and regulation to the design of housing.

The draft LHDG hints that its provisions will ultimately find their way into the London Plan to become Supplementary Planning Guidance. If so, then in pursuit of the coalition’s pledge to operate on the principle of ‘one in, one out’ when it comes to legislation, I take it someone in government will make it their business to repeal 70 provisions in existing legislation - or at least as many as this guide would otherwise add to the Gordian knot that entangles housing supply in this country.

For a high Tory, Boris espouses a surprisingly Fabian view in the introduction to his new guide that the best housing comes from “robust guidelines in planning and regulation”. At the same time, I do hope that Messrs Cameron, Cable and Clegg are fighting for improvements in the marketplace as a means to improve the consumer’s experience of the housing product.

I, for one, am lobbying for the implementation of prominent, at-a-glance space and energy labeling of new and second hand housing at point of sale so customers can easily compare relative merits in making their choice. This would be the merest nudge for government and industry, but a revolution for housing consumers.