HCA forced to publish details of low-scoring schemes before properties are sold or fully funded

Housebuilders have cried foul after Cabe’s design assessments of private housing schemes were made public last week.

Projects planned by nearly all of the major housebuilders were deemed below an acceptable standard under the Building for Life code. Schemes by Kier and Miller had the two lowest scores - 1.5 out of 20.

A Bridge too far

The Bridge in Dartford, Kent, was supposed to be an exemplar of how to take an unprepossessing brownfield site and turn it into a self-sustaining community. The housebuilder Taylor Wimpey engaged designer Wayne Hemingway, chairman of Building for Life, to advise on design of the 1,360-home scheme. It was lauded by housing ministers, but under Cabe’s assessment of the Kickstart application, it scored just 5 out of 20.

Hemingway says the problems began when Taylor Wimpey dismissed all its architectural advisers on the scheme, including him, as the credit crunch hit. Consequently, much of what was planned, including the planting of hundreds of trees and the provision of shops and football fields, has not happened. He said: “Wimpey just used internal draughtsmen to complete the designs. So any initial aspirations haven’t happened; it’s definitely slipped.”

Taylor Wimpey confirmed that it ended its involvement with Hemingway in 2008. A spokesman said: “Hemingway Design was fully involved in the design of all homes which have been built and are currently under construction.”

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) was forced to publish the assessments by the information commissioner. Thousands of the homes have yet to be sold and some of the developments have yet to sign funding deals with the HCA.

Persimmon, Gladedale, Taylor Wimpey, Galliford Try, Barratt and housing association Gentoo scored below 4 out of 20.

Cabe’s assessments - of projects that won public funds from the £716m Kickstart programme - have been criticised for poor research, after highly regarded schemes were given low marks.

These include the Bridge in Dartford, Kent, for which Taylor Wimpey was advised by Wayne Hemingway (see box, above); and the Racecourse estate by Gentoo in Tyne and Wear, which was built to the Passivhaus standard but was rated 2.5 out of 20.

David Birkbeck, chief executive of Design for Homes, the author of the Building for Life standard, said Gentoo built some of the UK’s biggest, most sustainable and well-managed homes. “Its schemes will never be as bad as these scores suggest. The failure is in the assessments,” he said.

Tim Hough, chief executive of Miller Homes, said: “Cabe made many of their assessments based on desktop research and when information was missing, simply scored a zero, skewing results.”

An industry source said: “What Cabe did was the worst example of a box-ticking exercise.”

What Cabe did was the worst example of a box-ticking exercise

Industry source

Trevor Beattie, the HCA’s outgoing director of policy, confirmed that most of the 22,000 homes funded under Kickstart had not been sold yet, and that some had not signed funding deals. He said Cabe’s assessments had been just the start of a process under which allocation decisions had been taken.

A Cabe spokesperson said it stood by the assessments: “In round one, many schemes were either badly designed or the bids were badly assembled. Either way, they scored poorly and that’s simply a statement of fact.”

The news came as housing minister Grant Shapps scrapped plans for national standards for all publicly funded housing, and called on the industry to draw up local standards.