As we see even more change within the government’s housing department, saying goodbye to Sajid Javid as he becomes Home Secretary and hello to James Brokenshire as the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), we can only wonder what impact this will have on the government’s ambitious housing plans.
Indeed, only last week we saw MHCLG ministers announce at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) Design Quality Conference held in central London, that driving up standards in design and build quality is key to tackling the housing crisis and meeting supply targets.
The conference saw industry leaders, including local authority planners, developers and design professionals, sharing their expertise to try to ensure that how homes look becomes just as important as the number delivered.
The event aimed to build on previous government action to ensure new homes are built using quality materials and design methods, as set out in the recently published draft National Planning Policy Framework.
The document, which is currently out to consultation, outlines requirements for design guides and codes to feature prominently in new Local Plans, significant consideration to be given to existing local character as well as setting out the density of developments that meet the needs and expectations of the community.
The document sets out that permission should be refused for a development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions. Conversely, where the design of a development accords with clear expectations in local policies, design should not be used by the decision-maker as a valid reason to object to development.
The government took the opportunity to call upon the housebuilding industry to embrace the latest innovations “to make sure we are building the good quality homes that our country needs”.
Ministers said that as part of the government’s goal to deliver 300,000 new homes in England by the mid-2020s, it was “essential” that the quality and design of new housing was addressed. It said that good quality design could lead to community support for new housing and ensures “we have good quality homes that people can feel proud living in and next door to”.
These comments come at a time when recent research shows that more than 7 out of 10 people would support new residential development if buildings are well-designed and in keeping with their local area.
Ministers went on to highlight the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology as a way of winning over communities before development has begun. “By visualising proposed new housing from the neighbour or homebuyer’s perspective, communities will be able to see how development can visually contribute to the area from an early stage, even before planning permission has been granted,” MHCLG said.
It also detailed other innovative approaches, imploring councils to learn from other countries such as Australia and Norway, where good design is an integral part of decision making, MHCLG said. Referencing the Australian model, it said local authorities should set their own design quality standards, “giving communities the ability to better reflect their own unique character in local planning policy”.
Ministers also looked at how developers can harness better quality design to entice first time buyers “who expect the highest quality homes before parting with their hard-earned deposits”.
Sajid Javid, housing secretary at the time of the conference, said: “Our homes, for all of us, are the making of us. That is why [this] event is so important." The challenge, now, is to deliver this consistently right across the country, so that high quality design is the norm rather than the exception.";