Letters reveal mutual blame over assessment and design standards for £1bn housing programme

A row over the quality of publicly-funded homes rescued by the government’s £1bn Kickstart scheme has broken out between the two public bodies involved.

Documents obtained by Building under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a dispute between Richard Simmons, the chief executive of Cabe, and Sir Bob Kerslake, his opposite number at the Homes and the Communities Agency (HCA), over the scheme design assessments carried out by Cabe for the HCA.

The HCA was criticised in December after it emerged that more than half the homes in the Kickstart programme failed the government’s own design test. Of 136 developments, more than half achieved less than 10 out of 20 against the Building for Life design criteria.

Simmons: The sector ‘needs a kick’
Simmons: The sector ‘needs a kick’

Building understands the bodies fell out over Cabe’s work, which marked schemes down for failing to supply information. The HCA said the assessors had not gained enough information to make an informed judgment.

In a letter to Simmons, dated 23 September, Kerslake said: “Reports provided have not helped us to discriminate as we had hoped in identifying genuinely poor schemes.”

However, Simmons penned a four-page response the next day, saying the HCA misunderstood the assessments, and attacked the quality of the designs submitted. He said: “We wish we could say that the quality of what was on offer was better but there is no evidence it is. The industry needs a kick to get it to produce consistently better products.”

A source close to the situation said senior HCA officials “were so angry they were spitting with rage” at Cabe’s assessments.

Cabe, which was paid nearly £250k for the work, will have a more limited role on the second phase of Kickstart. An HCA spokesperson said: “The Building for Life assessments gave us a good starting point. Cabe will continue to make a contribution to the next round.”

A Cabe spokesperson said: “The priority now is to make sure every scheme funded through round two is good enough.”

Meanwhile, the author of the Building for Life standard spoke up in support of the HCA. David Birkbeck, chief executive of Design for Homes, said: “Kickstart is a Marshall Plan for the devastated housebuilding sector. You don’t just give emergency aid to the best dressed. The HCA is right to withold support from only the very worst.”