It was good to see some reflection in last week’s issue on the state of housing quality (22 January, page 20)
But there is no “almighty row” between Cabe and the industry, and the feature failed to mention that design quality has actually begun to improve in recent years.
In fact, 2009 saw the highest number of schemes ever to achieve the Building for Life (BfL) standard. These criteria are now recognised in planning policy, endorsed by the industry and are bedding down as the principal way we all assess design. So it’s not all doom and gloom.
The real problems we face are threefold. First, we need to tie any use of taxpayers’ money to minimum design standards.
Most of the BfL criteria are cost neutral, commonsense and add value, so let’s not pretend it would somehow impose an impossible layer of regulation or make housebuilding commercially unviable. In reality, it would give the industry the clarity and consistency it craves from public sector partners.
Second, we need to change the perception that the planning inspectorate won’t back good design at appeal. Cabe and the inspectorate have worked hard to make sure this won’t be the case. Yet today, many councillors still seem to assume they will probably lose an argument based around the quality of a scheme and cave in to poor applications, fearing they will get no other investment. They need to hold out for good design.
Third, the industry itself has to reflect on the capacity of a build-for-sale business model, and the business process it engenders, to deliver good design consistently. Right now, some businesses see design as a value generator. Others simply as a cost. The latter attitude is what we need to change as the market begins to recover.
Richard Simmons, chief executive, Cabe