PRP chairman Andy von Bradsky gives his personal take on DCLG’s Starter Homes Design guide advising on what new homes at a 20% less than market value might look like
Well, that got slipped out under the radar just before Parliament was dissolved then?
I can’t account for the timing, but I deputised for Stephen Hodder as head of the RIBA Housing Group at DCLG’s round table discussions on Starter Homes Design and had a say on their formulating a political response to it. I’m encouraged that DCLG is picking up on architecture and that how our buildings look might be relevant.
So what do you think of the Starter Homes policy in general?
The RIBA will be more diplomatic about it but I feel it’s a bit flawed. Given that it exempts developers under the initiative from paying out under Section 106 – the usual vehicle for funding social housing – it seems to be funding home ownership at the expense of affordable housing provision. There needs to be more emphasis on proposed brownfield sites having connectivity with urban centres or existing schemes – developing derelict or isolated sites might be detrimental to the whole idea of place making.
How did you feel discussions went on Starter Homes Design?
I felt a tension between those who wanted to promote traditional formal approaches over modern ones: the guide definitely emphasises the former. Some of the examples they ran with are good in principle – Demetri Porphyrios’ Islington scheme, for example, is great progressive classicism – but there’s no way that quality could be built at the kind of baseline costs developers would want for starter homes. It’s simply undeliverable, whether you like traditional architecture or not.
So is it more about economics than aesthetics?
I’m saying it’s a key factor. Construction costs are rising, market values are driven by location and desirability, and somewhere between the two is the developer’s profit. And who is actually determining the market value of a property and therefore what the 20% discount would be? We’re working with developer Pocket, which is promoting quality, modern design, but the spaces it markets are smaller so as to remain affordable.
Can starter homes be a solution to the housing problem?
Part of the problem is the UK’s obsession with the carrot of home ownership and how politics feeds into that cultural mentality. Getting on the housing ladder is becoming more and more difficult and so I think as a society we need to become more at ease with different tenure models rather than aspiring to just one. A solution is needed; we ignore at our peril the issues at the bottom end of the housing market and should avoid policies that exacerbate the problems.
TRAD OR RAD?
The Starter Homes Design document is not policy, and its foreword is clear about that: it calls the various designs of constructed schemes of flats, semi-detached and terraced houses ‘exemplars’ achieving ‘a baseline of good quality from the outset.’ The document defers to NPPF and local authority planning guidance, but the aim is that the exemplars ‘can work alongside positive approaches on good design locally where they are in place’. Included are images and dimensioned elevations of six types of terraced home, one type of semi-detached and one type of flat. While the discussion seems to centre on the bias towards ‘traditional’ housing, only half the exemplars shown might be considered as strictly coming under that appellation.