The design of new houses in England needs to improve on the ‘mediocre’ and ‘poor’ developments being built, according to a new audit. 

Less affluent communities are the worst affected as a result of these designs, which are reportedly 10 times more likely to receive less efficient designs. 

These assertions follow a housing design audit by University College London (UCL) for Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the countryside charity, and the Place Alliance.

The homebuilding industry has been criticised previously for failing to consider community growth in its design of homes and infrastructure.

Self build schemes such as Graven Hill are striving to address this void through the creation of self build communities, while a custom build housing scheme was announced in 2019 to enable architects and homebuyers to work together to create better homes. 

The audit included more than 140 housing developments built in England since 2007, and states that one in five should have been refused planning permission due to poor design contrary to the recommendations by the National Planning Policy Framework. 

A total of 75% should not have gone ahead due to substandard designs, while an additional 54% of these developments should not have received planning permission without significant improvements to the design.

Professor Matthew Carmona from the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL, Chair of the Place Alliance, led the research. He said: “Research has consistently shown that high quality design makes new residential developments more acceptable to local communities and delivers huge social, economic and environmental value to all, yet we are still failing in this regard across England.”

Under Pressure

Prof Carmona added that planning authorities are “under pressure to deliver new homes”, but prioritising short-term checkboxes over long-term design efficiency and sustainability can result in developments dominated, for example, by access roads, or unappealing, unattractive environments that fail to foster a sense of community.

While the audit’s revelation that these designs continue to pass through the planning system is unnerving, it also discovered that better design is affordable – and could significantly benefit less affluent communities. 

The researchers recommend that the government focuses more on creating high quality builds full of character, and for local authorities to use proactive design codes for all major housing schemes to ensure that the subpar designs are improved before receiving planning permission

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