It is possible to build well-designed homes for this amount, says English Partnerships, and it’s running a competition to prove it. EP’s corporate strategy director, Trevor Beattie, explains why

he Design for Manufacture Competition, the £60,000 home, has sparked a lot of interest and debate. It was conceived to address the major increases in construction costs – some 50% in the residential sector and 63% in the social sector – over the past seven years. The competition, which is being run by English Partnerships for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, aims to demonstrate that it is possible to build high quality, cost-effective housing with a target construction cost of £60,000.

If we are to meet the commitments of the Sustainable Communities Plan, we need to build well-designed homes that can be constructed quickly and efficiently, as well as economically. Yet a shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry and increasing pressures on the world market for materials continue to drive up costs, with no signs of abatement. So now is the right time for a competition designed to encourage people

to start thinking about homes

for the future.

This is not a new idea. Exactly 100 years ago, a ‘cheap cottages’ competition was held to build three-bedroom homes for labourers in Letchworth, for £150. The houses produced remain some of the most attractive and popular in the area, and many are listed.

Cutting costs, not quality

We aim to use the competition to stimulate fresh thinking in the way we construct our homes and to demonstrate how we can build more cost-effectively without sacrificing quality. By using public sector land to provide the sites, developers will be able to focus their efforts on achieving cost efficiencies and increasing design quality. Once we have established how these efficiency savings can be made, we expect them to be adopted across the whole supply chain.

A high proportion of the final homes built will need to be achieved with a construction cost of £60,000, which we know from English Partnerships’ experience on our own sites is challenging but realistic. This is a target construction cost, not a development cost or sale price. It is, however, important that we seize this opportunity to showcase how homes fitting a variety of needs can be built just as efficiently. As a result, the winning bidders will be expected to develop sites on English Partnerships-owned land that contain a range of different housing units and are of mixed tenure.

Now is the right time for a competition to encourage people to think about homes for the Future

The competition is open to all types of building methods, materials and suppliers. The key requirement is that the solutions improve the quality of our homes and help speed up the much-needed supply of new developments.

Good design is crucial to achieving our aims. An audit of housing quality by the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment showed that only 17% of new housing developments sampled were of good design quality; 61% were average and 22% were poor. While design costs are a relatively small part of the overall development, design is key to achieving efficiency, quality and long-term sustainability.

The competition also seeks to encourage tenants and home purchasers to value good design. The lesson of English Partnerships’ millennium communities is that people do make choices about where they want to live based on quality, energy savings and the availability of flexible space, but this does not seem to be reflected across the market as a whole. So we will work with the communities where the winning designs will be built to ensure they meet the needs of purchasers and tenants, and hold public exhibitions of the designs.

All designs put forward should follow the principles of the Urban Design Compendium that English Partnerships published with the Housing Corporation in 2000. They must achieve English Partnerships’ policy standard of BREEAM EcoHomes ‘Very Good’, or an appropriate equivalent in the forthcoming Code for Sustainable Buildings.

We have already shown how this can be achieved by the unveiling of our Summit House at the Delivering Sustainable Communities Summit earlier this year. Built using Fusion’s lightweight steel frame system, it illustrates many of the key principles vital to longer-term successful developments – good urban design; flexibility and adaptability; increased environmental amenity; innovative use of volume and space. Secure by Design and Lifetime Homes have also been incorporated into the build, and are some of the aspects we will be looking to see in proposals. There is another chance to see our Summit House at OFFSITE2005.

Design for Manufacture is more than just a design competition. It is about producing actual high-quality sustainable homes people can afford. The competition provides a very public platform for the construction industry to showcase innovation and prove it can deliver. n

For further information on the competition, email