CABE’s ambition was to see ‘good’ and ‘very good’ developments (as defined by BFL) become the norm as opposed to the exception – a tall order when its national housing audits showed that only 18% of developments met this standard.
How can this ambition be realised where baseline performance is so low? Is it through strengthening local policies? Is it through further regulation? Is it through encouraging the widespread adoption and use of BFL? If we had all of these ‘in play’ would it be enough? Or do we need something else? These were the issues that one English Council considered when it adopted a radical new approach to housing quality – one that harnessed consumer influence.
The challenge is a tough one. How can a step-change in design quality of new homes and neighbourhoods be achieved where robust urban design and place-making skills are in short supply (or rarely used), where house builders can seem reluctant to invest in better places (and in many cases, even more reluctant to design for the place, rather than impose a design on the place)? How do we drive standards upwards when consumers seem willing to invest in places we regard as below standard? Has the time come to focus our efforts on creating and nurturing a more ‘intelligent client’ as championed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. (Consumer choice in housing. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2002, York Publishing, York).
How ourplaceTM works
Our simple and easy to understand rating system is based on the BFL standard. Once a planning application has been assessed (and assuming it is granted planning consent), the developer is issued with a certificate for one of four tier ratings, ranging from ‘A+’ to ‘C’.
The idea is simple – we believe that if home buyers are offered an easy way to identify well-designed places (and in turn compare places to one another), design standards will be driven up by more discerning purchasers. Clearly, the more local authorities that join the scheme the more impact it will have.
Similar rating schemes have successfully influenced consumer behaviour, with energy rating certificates on fridges and washing machines perhaps the most high profile example.
The primary concern for home builders is, and will always be, the activity of building and selling homes – with that of local authorities related to the wellbeing of its communities. If we, as local authorities, really want house builders to recognise the value and importance of urban design and place making, we must raise the profile of design in the market place, and reward those more enlightened developers who embrace the idea of ‘place making’.
It also requires urban designers to think a bit differently and ensure that we don’t let our government completely extinguish the ideas and ambition of CABE that was centred on enhancing people’s everyday, ordinary lives. Something that sadly does not appear to appeal to every political persuasion, and is considered too expensive in today’s economy.
ourplaceTM is being extended to a number of English local authorities during 2011 following a successful pilot scheme. We’d be interested to pilot ourplaceTM in Australia, so please get in touch if you would like to find out more. This article forms the content of a CABE Housing Task Group presentation, and is based on a research paper written by the author. To find out more, please email [email protected]