Anthony Hudson: Design matters

We are leaving a dreadful legacy for the future. Not only do we have a severe shortage of housing but also when we do build, we build the wrong kind of homes and the smallest houses in Europe. Across the board standards consistently fall below government benchmarks.

This all has serious implications for the way we live: it does not make for harmonious living or encourage an atmosphere for individuals to flourish.

The reason for this state of affairs is a combination of a lack of real competition in the housing market and sensible regulation. With housing demand far exceeding supply and being an immoveable commodity there is little incentive for house builders to properly address need and quality. We have a mismatch between what people want and the type of homes available.

For example, there's a huge demand for three-bedroom houses, but in 2009 the industry built 80pc of homes as one and two-bedroom flats. House building expediency churns out bog standard houses not taking into consideration the need for flexibility in living, ease of maintenance and lifetime costs of running a house.

House builders are failing to provide what is really desired as their responsibility ends with the sale.


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In contrast, new rented housing, (mainly commissioned by housing associations), is better designed because these landlords manage their properties and know what works and what doesn't in terms of liveability and running costs for their tenants; they have the wellbeing of their occupants at heart.

This might explain why the construction and quality of housing in Europe is better than here – 55pc of homes in Germany and 46pc in the Netherlands are rented compared with 35pc in the UK. Where do we see construction innovation, higher quality builds and higher satisfaction? Germany and Holland!

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Furthermore we are one of the very few European countries not to have minimum space standards (ours were ditched in the 1980s under the Thatcher government).

As a result we build the smallest homes in Europe. Flexibility of living space is compromised by cellular planning and by cramming in 'en-suite' bathrooms as a marketing ploy. Squeezing living space can mean no place for children to study or room for a family to dine together at a table, all of which is detrimental to home life.

This approach continues to degrade our housing stock leaving a legacy of undersized and poorly designed homes for the future. Unfortunately it is not being improved by this government with the scrapping of core housing standards on the premise that it will put up building costs. This is short sighted. The only glimmer of light, ironically, is a London Conservative mayor who has just reintroduced minimum design standards for affordable housing even though this would seem to be going against the trend of deregulation.

So what is the answer? It must include a consumer-lead housing market where there is proper choice, the resurgence of a responsible rental market in both the public and private sectors and clever un-bureaucratic regulation.

Anthony Hudson, Hudson Partners Architects, London and Norwich.

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