Why design and quality matters for the homes we will build

Why design and quality matters for the homes we will build

The last quarter of the financial year is always the business end of the development cycle. It is now all about the numbers, how many starts, how many completions. And that has to be right. It is an important measure for government and for society of how we are doing in meeting housing need. The Minister expects us to deliver, and deliver we must.

There is no longer any argument over the mismatch between homes built and housing need. We know the fact we’ve dropped below 100,000 homes per year and that 2012/13 may see a historic low. Everyone is desperate to reverse the freefall and somehow to get back to the type of building programme we had five years ago. But with public subsidy tight and land costs still stubbornly holding fast, the sector will be drawn to just trying to make deals stack up to deliver the numbers.

But it is crucially important that we don’t forget design and quality. It is our legacy for future generations. We lost the design watchdog CABE, as part of the bonfire of the quangos, so the moral responsibility sits squarely on our shoulders.

And the body of evidence is irrefutable, that design and quality makes a fundamental difference to the life chances of those who are housed in affordable homes. It is a home not a unit, and it matters that we think of it as such. To quote Robert Napier, Chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency ‘A house is not a home unless it is part of a community’.

I recall the housing market package initiative of the 1980s, which saw housing associations purchase a significant number of homes that were not designed with association tenants in mind or with liveability and sustainability as key drivers. As a young development upstart I was fortunate enough to be managed by a Director with a housing management background who reminded me that once that initiative had passed we would be the managers of the consequences of the decisions we made. 25 year on, and umpteen Housing Ministers since, if I reflect on some of those decisions, I have to acknowledge he was right. I look back at those developments, some with pride and a few with shame, and I forget who the Minister was at year end…

So, a reminder and a plea. A home is for life not just for March 31st. Let’s deliver but let’s deliver homes that we will be proud of in future generations.

Steve Douglas. Tel 07810 152840 and email: steve.douglas@altairltd.co.uk