Andrew Potter is the Chief Executive of the Hastoe Housing Association.
When Aneurin Bevan was Minister of Health (a brief that also covered housing), he said to a conference of rural authorities in 1946 “while we shall be judged for a year or two by the number of houses we build, we shall be judged in 10 years’ time by the type of houses we build.”
As we now look to build 300,000 homes per year, I hope this idea of quantity and quality is something all political parties can get behind. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see a Conservative Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse, put quality design and beauty top of his agenda.
Building cheap, cramped, and poorly-insulated homes is a false economy. They cost more to maintain and increase opposition to new development.
As Chief Executive of a specialist rural housing association, Hastoe, I know quality design is one of the most powerful weapons we have in boosting support for new housing. Rural England wants new, energy efficient, affordable homes that are sensitive to the local vernacular. If you get this right, communities often ask for more.
The Government’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission launched last month. This is a good chance to get this right. The Commission has three aims – better design and style for new homes, generating better community consent, and making the planning system work in favour of better style and design.
It’s important that the Commission takes into account the rural experience when gathering evidence and making recommendations. Villages are used to small-scale development and care deeply about the local vernacular of buildings. Here’s three short suggestions for the Commissioners on building quality, beautiful homes in Rural England.
- Listen to Parish Councils: They often help to drive the development of new affordable homes in their village. Working closely with the Parish Council and rural communities to design new homes makes the whole process much easier.
- Lower land values leaves more cash for design: At Hastoe, our main way of building is through Rural Exception Sites. Land is released for low values on the condition that the homes are affordable forever for local people. The Commission should recommend a way for land to be released at lower values, like the Rural Exception Site model, to leave more money for quality design. Instead, developers will bid inflated amounts for land, leaving little cash for the design of new homes.
- High-energy efficiency: Quality design is not just how a property looks (though this is important) but how it works too. Building to highly energy-efficiency standards, like Passivhaus, can save residents hundreds of pounds per year in fuel bills. Commissioners should consider energy efficiency too in their recommendations.
If we are going to build 300,000 homes and ensure public support, quality really counts. If we get this right, we can build homes in rural and urban England that we can be proud of for hundreds of years.