Architect’s designs for Taylor Wimpey expensive and hard to sell

Architect Richard Rogers has been ditched from an award-winning scheme in Milton Keynes because of fears by developer Taylor Wimpey the non-traditional designs are expensive and difficult to sell.

Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners won the job for Taylor Wimpey as part of the previous Labour government’s Design for Manufacture initiative - better known as the £60k house competition – launched in 2005 by then deputy prime minister John Prescott.

This week Taylor Wimpey confirmed it had drafted in St Albans-based firm CMYK to finish off the remaining 29 homes of the development, which it admitted would feature more traditional designs.

The original consortium was one of six teams selected for the initiative, and were tasked with building 145 homes, the smaller ones of which would be for a construction price of £60k, on a 3 ha site at Oxley Woods in Milton Keynes.

However, the moves have infuriated residents of the existing RSHP-designed homes, who are proud of the £13m scheme and have accused Taylor Wimpey of “putting higher profit margins above principles”.

Peter Gurr, the developer’s regional managing director, said it had brought in CMYK “with the full knowledge of RSHP”.

He added: “The cost of housing formed of prefabricated components becomes expensive in a period of economic hardship when you cannot predict a steady flow of sales. Demand for these properties has not met with our expectations.”

Taylor Wimpey, which on Tuesday said 2010 profits would be ahead of market expectations partly as a result of slashing construction costs, declined to say how much the homes cost, but a report published by the Homes & Communities Agency last March said: “Of all the DfM sites, Oxley Woods has been the most expensive to build.”

The report revealed that mortgage lenders and insurers had worries about the development – a number of homes suffered from leaking windows – which prompted meetings between them and the design team “to explain the design and build of the scheme and reassure them of the quality”.

Residents, who have begun receiving leaflets from CMYK outlining the alternative designs, are vowing to convince the housebuilder to change its mind.

“We all bought into the ethos of what was happening here,” said Paul Mullett, a web designer. “We felt like pioneers of how future housing could be.”

Retired architect Barbara Swann, one of the first residents to move into the new homes in 2007, accused Taylor Wimpey of letting her down. “They have given up everything they said they were going to do,” she said.

RSHP director Ivan Harbour, who is project director for Oxley Woods, said: “If Taylor Wimpey changes its mind, we would be happy to work together to complete the designs for those homes planned for the final part.”

The project had been identified as a model of future housing. In 2008 it won a Building for Life Gold Standard award as well as that year’s RIBA Manser Medal.

Harbour added: “The attainable technologies adopted for this project will have a huge influence on the future of sustainable mass-market housing.”

The homes, which were all manufactured off site and included the Trespa prefabricated cladding system, were championed for their eco credentials with features including sustainable materials and an EcoHat (pictured below), which allowed hot air to be re-used.

This story originally appeared in Building’s sister publication Building Design here.