New housing design overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’

Audit of over 140 housing developments finds one in five should have been refused planning permission.



A new report damns the design of new housing developments in England as overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’, with less-affluent communities the worst affected, according to a national audit.

The study has already prompted the LGA to press for Right to Buy reform in the upcoming budget and a revocation of the permitted development right.

Conducted by UCL for CPRE and the Place Alliance, A housing design audit for England found that of over 140 housing developments built since 2007, one in five failed on design and should have been refused planning permission outright as contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework.

A further 54% should not have been granted permission without significant improvements to their design having been made first.

The audit also found that:

  • Less affluent communities are ten times more likely to get worse design, even though better design is affordable
  • Low-scoring housing developments scored especially badly in terms of character and sense of place, with architecture that does not respond to the context in which it is located
  • The worst reported aspects of design include developments dominated by access roads and the poor integration of storage, bins and car parking, leading to unattractive and unfriendly environments with likely negative health and social implications
  • Some gains have been made – schemes scored relatively highly for safety and security and were also typically successful at integrating a variety of sizes of house

“Research has consistently shown that high quality design makes new residential developments more acceptable to local communities and delivers huge social, economic and environmental value to all, yet we are still failing in this regard across England,” said Professor Matthew Carmona (The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL) Chair of the Place Alliance.

“Planning authorities are under pressure to deliver new homes and are therefore prioritising numbers in the short-term over the long-term negative impacts of bad design.

At the same time, house builders have little incentive to improve when their designs continue to pass through the planning system.

“Some highways authorities, meanwhile, do not even recognise their role in creating a sense of place for communities.

“Collectively, house builders, planning authorities and highways authorities need to significantly raise their game – this can’t come soon enough,” he said.

Tom Fyans, Campaigns and Policy Director at CPRE, the countryside charity, said the Government has presided over a decade of “disastrous” housing design and must raise standards immediately.

“This research is utterly damning of larger house builders and their failure to build the homes our communities deserve, they must significantly raise their game if we are to create the sorts of places that future generations will feel proud to call home.

“It’s no wonder so many of our communities feel apprehensive towards new development when the design is so poor. That’s why significantly improving the quality of design is central to addressing the housing shortage.”

The audit proposed a range of recommendations for the Government, house builders and local government.

Amongst these the research found:

  • Strong benefits in designing at higher densities than is the norm
  • Government should be more prescriptive in seeking less sprawling densities, as more compact developments tend to be designed more sensitively
  • Housebuilders need to drive greater ambition across the sector in order to advance a more ethical approach to the design of development that prioritises the long-term social wellbeing of their customers and the health of the environment at large
  • Councils need to use proactive design codes – design parameters established for each site – and design review processes for all major housing schemes
  • Councils also need to end the current disconnect between highways design and planning aspirations when it comes to new housing areas
  • Schemes which do not meet minimum requirements should be refused on design grounds and this should be supported, without question, by the Government regardless of progress towards meeting housing targets in the area

LGA housing spokesman Cllr David Renard said councils want to work with the Government over the “critical need” for renewed national leadership on standards for new homes, which would give certainty to councils, developers and communities.

“These standards should future-proof all new homes, ensuring they are accessible for all ages and all markets, meet the housing needs of our ageing population and are environmentally sustainable.

“High-quality homes for affordable and social rent are desperately needed across the country now, and councils need to be able to resume their role as major builders of affordable homes. The last time this country built homes at the scale that we need now was in the 1970s when councils built more than 40 per cent of them,” said Cllr Renard.

“Councils were trusted to get on and build homes that their communities needed, and they delivered, and they can do so again.

“For that to happen, the Government needs to use the forthcoming Budget to reform Right to Buy, by allowing councils to keep receipts of homes sold under RTB in full and to have the flexibility to set discounts locally.

“It should also revoke the permitted development right, which means local communities are denied the opportunity to shape the area they live in, ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place, and see affordable housing provided,” he said.