Miller hits back as Cabe’s controversial design rating exposed by Freedom of Information request

Developments by housebuilders Kier and Miller Group were the worst designed of all that received emergency funding from the HCA during the depths of the recession, according to data released today.

The Information Commissioner today ordered the Homes and  Communities Agency to publish reviews by design quango Cabe of the designs of all 299 schemes in the government’s £716m Kickstart scheme to rescue stalled housing sites.

The assessments show that two schemes, Lower Milehouse Lane, by Kier Ventures, and Urban Space, by Miller Homes, scored just 1.5 out of 20 on the Cabe’s assessment under the Building for Life standard.

The design of the homes became controversial late last year when the government revealed that public money had funded schemes which were judged by Cabe to be very poorly designed. It found that more than half of all of the schemes in the £421m first phase of Kickstart got less than 12 out of 20, the body’s design threshold.

However, it had not previously said which schemes scored poorly. Today’s data showed that schemes by all of the listed housebuilders, with the exception of Berkeley and Redrow, had schemes judged as poor. Persimmon, Gladedale, Taylor Wimpey, Galliford Try, Barratt and housing association Gentoo all also scored exceptionally low results of below four out of 20.

Tim Hough, Chief Executive of Miller Homes, hit back at Cabe’s assessments which were made without consulting local residents. He said: “The developments were all approved by people democratically elected to ensure good planning policy in the areas in which they operate.  These planning committees have the good of their communities at their heart – and know firsthand what individual neighbourhoods want, need and deserve in terms of housing stock, design and infrastructure. 

“In complete contrast, CABE made many of their assessments based on desk top research and when information was missing, simply scored a zero, heavily skewing results.  It also would be interesting to know if CABE ever consulted with the local members or residents.

“We are proud of every development we have delivered under Kickstart.”

The highest scores were achieved by Devon & Cornwall Housing Association and Notting Hill Housing Trust in round one, and Berkeley Group and the English Cities fund in round two.

The scores led to a public row between Cabe and the HCA, with the HCA maintaining that Kickstart had been essential to keep the housing industry alive, and that many of the schemes were actually better than Cabe’s analysis suggested. Cabe said the HCa risked wasting public money on unsustainable homes, with chief executive Richard Simmons suggesting the scores should be used to “kick” the housebuilders into improving designs.

The scores were particularly controversial because the “desktop exercise” carried out by Cabe to assess the homes was depended entirely on information volunteered by the developer, with scores marked as failing simply for not providing information.

Housing minister Grant Shapps welcomed the publication of the data, saying it demonstrated the government’s more open approach. He said: “Openness may be uncomfortable for some but we know that proper public scrutiny will lead to far better decisions – and save money as well.

“So I welcome that this important element of assessment of Kickstart housing projects is now finally publicly available. This is the right thing to do and something I strongly agree with. Government needs to lead by example so this is a necessary step in opening up all public records.”

Kickstart was launched by Labour in 2008 to restart stalled sites, and the Coalition has confirmed there will not be further rounds of funding for it.

The release of information today coincided with the publication of its review of the £295m second phase of Kickstart in which it found the average score was much higher at 12, compared to 9 in the first phase.

Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the Home Builders’ Federation defended the decision to award grant to low-scoring schemes. He said: “Criticising the process detracts from the success of a programme that delivered thousands of desperately needed homes that otherwise would not have been built. During an acute housing crisis the [Homes and Communities]agency helped maintained supply, so protecting jobs and attracting investment to support the struggling economy”

He also said Cabe’s analysis may have under-rated developments. He said: “It was a desktop exercise, without the site visits often undertaken as part of a Building for Life assessment. In Kickstart 1, because the information required by assessors was not requested in the appropriateform, assessors simply gave a zero score for many categories, which clearly skewed the results. Kickstart 1 scores were lower than those for Kickstart 2 largely because of lack of information, not because the schemes were poorly designed.”

The information was published today following a Freedom of Information request by Buidling’s sister publication Building Design. Kier was unavailable to comment.