223.Meeting housing demand is about more than numbers—new homes need to be of a design and quality that people want to live in. Design codes and a greater emphasis on design quality and beauty in the planning stages may help to improve standards in new housing stock. It is also critical that new homes are durable, so that they will still be suitable homes in 100 years’ time. This chapter discusses Government initiatives to promote good design and quality; building for beauty; designing for net zero; the public realm; issues of quality in new housing; and the potential impact of Modern Methods of Construction.
224.A design code is a set of concise, illustrated design requirements which provide specific parameters for the physical development of a site or area. The Government issued guidance on design codes in 2006, following a three-year pilot research programme.336 The 2012 National Planning Policy Framework encouraged local authorities to consider using design codes and instructed local planning authorities to have local design review arrangements in place, where expert panels would provide assessment and support to ensure high standards of design.337 The Government’s 2020 Planning White Paper, Planning for the Future, set out reforms to local plans to encourage a greater focus on quality and design at the local level. It indicated that locally produced design codes should be used alongside local plans and emphasised the importance of community engagement with local design codes.338 Witnesses said that it is important that design codes do not stifle innovation and imagination among architects and builders.
225.Responding to criticisms about the design of new-build homes, in July 2021 the Government introduced a new National Model Design Code.339 The Code sets out guidance for local planning authorities as they design their own locally informed codes and develops the broader priorities set out in the National Design Guide, which was published in October 2020. Specific standards include ensuring that the design of new development takes account of local vernacular, character, heritage, architecture and materials; creates safe, inclusive and accessible green spaces; considers landscape, green infrastructure and biodiversity; and considers environmental performance to ensure they contribute to net zero.
1.Context: enhances the surroundings
2.Movement: accessible and easy to move around
3.Nature: enhanced and optimised
4.Built form: a coherent pattern of development
5.Identity: attractive and distinctive
6.Public space: safe, social and inclusive
7.Use: mixed and integrated
8.Homes and buildings: functional, healthy and sustainable
9.Resources: efficient and resilient
10.Lifespan: made to last
Source: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, National Model Design Code: Part 2 Guidance Notes (June 2021): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1009795/NMDC_Part_2_Guidance_Notes.pdf [accessed 7 December 2021]
226.We heard concerns about the ‘codification’ of good design. The Chartered Planners in Academic Practice Group warned against implementing a “one size fits all” approach and suggested that design codes “work best for single large sites being built out over a long timescale where they provide coherence, co-ordination and certainty—and often underpin public confidence in the outcomes from such large sites”. They advised: “Good design should contribute to, and not be traded off against other objectives, including environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainable development”.340
227.Highlighting the importance of local input, the Construction Industry Council said: “It is imperative that neighbourhoods are involved as much as possible in producing codes and designs. In the past, poor quality of design has been a reason why so much new development has been opposed locally.”341 However, we heard that improved design quality would not significantly reduce the extent of local objection or make new homes more acceptable to existing communities. David Birkbeck, Chief Executive Officer, Design for Homes, commented that while better design might “effectively win over about one in ten objectors … it is not going to be big enough to move the dial”.342
228.Barratt Developments said that for design codes to be a success, they “should be aligned with the timing and content of the local plan” and “must not make sites allocated in local plans undeliverable”.343
229.The Local Government Association argued that local authorities should not be required to produce a design code:
“While a design guide can be a helpful tool that sets out principles and provides exemplars, it may not be the right tool for creating high quality places. There is also a risk that design codes could create an additional layer of documents to consider and require a lot of resources. Design codes may also be prescriptive, potentially stymieing design innovation.”344
230.The Chartered Planners in Academic Practice Group said that the high build costs associated with design codes could prevent SME housebuilders from being able to compete in the marketplace.345
231.Whilst suggesting that design codes will work in areas “where there already is ambition for design quality”, David Birkbeck questioned their efficacy in areas with geographical diversity. He stressed that “you cannot have a single set of design rules for something so varied” and suggested that central guidance is “ignored when it is not attractive to that particular local community”.346
232.The Chartered Institute of Building said: “Good design is not inevitable; it needs to be championed”.347 We heard how a lack of design expertise in local planning authorities can compromise high-quality design. Phillip Waddy, an architect, informed us that architects are rarely engaged in the design and master-planning of large new developments. He suggested that these types of projects are particularly in need of design expertise, as they tend to lack an existing urban and landscape context, which results in “the developer’s standard offering [being] … reproduced multiple times, creating an anywhere/nowhere environment.”348
233.Public Practice have estimated that adopting a design code for an area of approximately 1,000 homes will cost £139,000 and have suggested that to upskill, produce and deliver local design codes at scale, local planning authorities will need additional funding and support.349
234.Local planning departments are severely underequipped in terms of design resources. Increased flexible resourcing for local planning authorities should include design skills.
235.The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (2018–20) was an independent body commissioned by the Government to advise on how to promote high-quality designs for newbuild homes and neighbourhoods.350 The Planning White Paper adopted several of the commission’s recommendations.351 These included implementing a planning “fast-track for beauty” for high-quality development that “reflects local character” and the publication of a revised version of the 2007 Manual for Streets, with a commitment that all new streets are tree-lined.352 The Office for Place, a new unit set up by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to work on local design codes and undertake research, will continue to promote the Commission’s findings.353
236.Some witnesses raised concerns about the proposed planning “fast-track for beauty”.354 The proposal is that schemes which comply with local design codes, based on the National Model Design Code, will be more likely to gain swift approval. Criticisms include that beauty is difficult to quantify and that a fast-track risks developers putting together local elements, rather than actively engaging with architects to reflect local idioms.355 Councils have expressed concern at the proposals, with the New Forest District Council emphasising that ‘sustainability’ and ‘beauty’ are not the same.356 The Local Government Association warned: “The Government’s proposals to allow ‘beautiful’ development to be fast-tracked may not lead to the quality homes and places communities want and need. Councils need tools that will empower them to create great quality homes and places and stop poor development, rather than supporting those deemed to be ‘beautiful’.”357
237.We also heard: “good design and good aesthetics are not the same conceptually.”358 For example, the National Federation of Roofing Contractors suggested that “faux dormers, Juliet balconies, false chimney stacks, and unnecessary valleys and gables in a roof … add kerb appeal” but are “by and large useless, requiring maintenance later on and … lessening value.”359
238.We welcome the Government’s increased focus on the importance of beauty in building new homes. However, we are concerned that the proposed ‘fast-track for beauty’ would compromise the quality of some new builds.
239.Homes have been the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the UK since 2015.360 New and existing homes produce around 20% of all carbon emissions in the UK.361 The Future Homes Standard is part of the Government’s plan to build homes that are zero carbon, so that an average home will have 75–80% fewer carbon emissions than a home constructed to the current national standards for energy efficiency. The proposed timeline is for a full technical specification to be consulted on in 2023, ahead of introducing legislation in 2024 and implementation in 2025. The Construction Industry Council saw drawbacks to this timeline:
“If the Government is to consistently reach its target of 300,000 homes per year, this will mean that 1 million homes are likely to have been built before the Future Homes Standard is implemented. These homes will only be subject to interim standards with some transitional arrangements still to be revealed … [and] if the Future Homes Standard is perceived by housebuilders as increasing build costs, then plans may be rushed through to beat the legislation.”362
240.The Government should establish a clear implementation timetable for the Future Homes Standard. Where possible, the number of homes built to the Future Homes Standard should be maximised.
241.A number of witnesses highlighted the importance of space standards and the discrepancies that exist between tenures.363 Where regulations are not in place, rooms are smaller. David Orr CBE, Chair of the Good Home inquiry at the Centre for Ageing Better observed: “We have an obsession with the number of bedrooms instead of the amount of habitable space per person; that is where space standards should start from, not what size a third bedroom is.”364 With more people spending more time at home following the pandemic, there is scope for reevaluating what constitutes habitable space.
242.Zero plotting is when housebuilders plot streets using suburban house types as tightly as possible. Design for Homes informed us that these schemes allow no space for soft landscaping at the front of the house and the streets tend to have no verge or tree planting.365 This allows the developer to maximise their land bid and win the tender. David Birkbeck explained that these homes were previously built at 12,000 square feet to the acre and are now built at 17,000 square feet to the acre.366 He remarked that builders “work out how to build the maximum number of units with absolutely nothing except for the minimum depth of garden allowed … and enough space for two parking bays on plot to the front of the property” and suggested that the business models of several companies are based on this practice. Homes England does not allow its land to be sold to developers who adopt zero plotting. We heard evidence that mid-rise developments use space effectively to provide medium density dwellings and have less of a harmful impact on the surrounding environment.367
243.The Lifetime Homes Standard is comprised of sixteen design criteria intended to make new homes accessible, adaptable and inclusive.368 Such standards seek to help make homes suitable for later living. The criteria include car parking width, potential for entrance level living space and accessibility of bathrooms.369 The concept was developed in 1991 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Habinteg Housing Association and a revised version was published in 2010, which contributed to the Building Regulations 2010.370 Some local authorities required new developments to adopt the standard. Part M (access to and use of buildings) of the Building Regulations, which were amended in 2020, sets minimum access standards for all new buildings; most of the design criteria of the Lifetimes Homes Standard are included in Part M, but not all.371
244.The interplay between the home and spaces outside can enhance or detract from residents’ quality of life. The Lords special inquiry Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment focused on this issue in its report, Building better places, which was published in 2016.372 Considerations of the public realm—defined as all aspects of the built environment that are publicly accessible, such as streets, squares and parks—carry increasing weight in the planning process.
245.We were told that in some cases schemes are well-designed at the start, with a good focus on the public realm, but adapted so extensively throughout the delivery that the final product is compromised. The Construction Industry Council advised us: “following planning consent, well designed schemes should not be fundamentally changed during the process of addressing matters of design detail: too often currently, what is finally built is ‘bad’ design.”373 The contribution private developers have made to the private realm attracted praise, with the regeneration of King’s Cross raised as an example of “public realm of extraordinary quality”.374
King’s Cross has undergone development from an industrial site into a new neighbourhood with streets, squares, parks, homes, shops, offices, restaurants, bars, schools and a university. Part of the London Borough of Camden, the area has a new postcode, N1C. The mixed-use development was hailed by a number of witnesses as an example of best practice for urban regeneration.
In 2001, construction work began on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the restoration of St Pancras Station. In the same year, Argent was selected as the development partner for King’s Cross Central. Consultation with the local community, government and stakeholders resulted in a paper, Principles for a human city, from which the masterplan evolved. These principles included having a robust urban framework, harnessing the value of heritage, and having a vibrant mix of uses. Planning permission was granted in 2006 for the development of around 50 new buildings and up to 2,000 new homes, and construction began in 2008. Granary Square is the central outdoor space; there are 26 acres of outdoor space across the site.
Image: John Sturrock, King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership: https://www.kingscross.co.uk/about-the-development
246.The Minister indicated that the Government wants to extend the Office for Place from its present location in the department to every local authority.375 He argued that this would: “enable those local authorities to generate their own localised design codes” which would in turn “make local plan-making, and thereby local development, more digestible to people who really know that we need homes but do not want them built without infrastructure, looking like any home anywhere else in the country.”
Eddington is the first phase of the North West Cambridge Development, which is being undertaken by the University of Cambridge. The development will ultimately provide 1,500 homes for university and college staff, 1,500 private homes for sale and accommodation for 2,000 postgraduates. Community amenities include a primary school, a nursery, a health centre, a community centre and performing arts space, 100,000 square metres of academic and research and development space, a supermarket, a hotel, a senior living home, sports pitches, retail units, public green spaces, roads and transport routes, sustainable transport provision, an energy centre and district heating network. Outline planning consent was granted in 2013 and construction began that year. The University of Cambridge Primary School opened in 2015 and residents moved into the development in 2017. The community centre and performing arts space opened in 2018.
Some of the development’s innovative projects include its waste management and water collection systems. Underground chutes replace traditional wheelie bins in an innovative waste disposal system and the development has the UK’s largest site-wide water recycling system. Solar panels are used extensively in the development. The development has won numerous awards for masterplanning, planning, design, construction and sustainability.
Source: Eddington, Cambridge: developed by the University of Cambridge: www.eddington-cambridge.co.uk [accessed 7 December 2021]
247.We encourage the Government to promote local engagement with placemaking, including through the Office for Place. The Office for Place should help coordinate flexible resources for planning.
248.We heard that too often new homes do not meet expected quality standards: the 2018/19 Home Builders Federation survey found that 97% of respondents had reported problems to their housebuilders, with 25% of new homeowners reporting over 16 problems.376 A 2017 report by Shelter found that 51% of homeowners in new-build homes had experienced problems.377 Common issues in new homes range from major structural and weatherproofing problems, ventilation defects, mould, doorframes contracting, water leaks and poorly built walls, to minor issues such as plaster drying cracks.378 The HomeOwners Alliance and BLP Insurance conclude that “the British public are shunning new homes because they are seen as being poorly built and characterless.”379
249.We heard that earlier engagement with inspectors could help mitigate defects. The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering told us: “to improve the quality of new homes more interaction should take place with Clerk of Works/Building Inspectors especially prior to completion and handover of properties”.380 We learned that in some cases schemes are well-designed at the start, with a good focus on build quality, but are adapted so extensively throughout the delivery that the final product is compromised.381
250.The decline of SME housebuilders has affected build quality. The Federation of Master Builders wrote: “Lacking the economies of scale of volume builders, they [SMEs] are unlikely to be able to compete on price, and so will tend to differentiate themselves through quality of design and quality of build.”382
251.Poor-quality housing has a significant impact on public health. In its 2021 report, The cost of poor housing in England, the Building Research Establishment concluded that poor housing costs the NHS £1.4 billion per annum in treatment bills, with excess cold the most expensive hazard.383 Fuel poverty led to 8,500 deaths in England and Wales over the 2019/20 winter.384
252.In October 2018, the Government announced its intention to create a New Homes Ombudsman to “champion homebuyers, protect their interests and hold developers to account”. The New Homes Ombudsman is a component of the Government’s plan to encourage housebuilders to deliver high standards of quality, service and customer satisfaction. Those who buy new homes will have the right to take complaints against builders to the Ombudsman. Membership will be mandatory for all new developers and the Ombudsman will have the right to require housebuilders to: pay compensation; make an apology; provide an explanation; and/or take some other action as the Ombudsman may specify. The New Homes Quality Board has consulted on the proposals for the scheme.385 The Ombudsman will be created under the Building Safety Bill, which was introduced in July.386
253.We commend the Government’s plans for a New Homes Ombudsman to handle complaints from those who buy new homes. The New Homes Ombudsman’s powers must be robust and adequately enforced.
254.The Building Safety Programme was established by the Government to ensure the safety of high-rise buildings following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017.387 It requires leaseholders to pay for remedial work to improve the safety of buildings. The impact of this on housing associations is acute: the National Housing Federation’s survey of housing associations found that 11% of their planned new affordable homes in England can no longer be built, due to funding for remediation.388 The burden of remediation costs also limits housing associations’ capacities to fund new homes with a high design quality.
255.Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) use a combination of offsite manufacturing, onsite techniques and innovative technologies to produce homes more quickly than traditional housebuilding methods. MMC can produce ‘modular’ homes: prefabricated homes constructed off-site in a factory in repeated sections or modules, which are later transported and assembled on-site. Currently, 8% of UK homes are built using MMC.389 In March 2021, the Government announced the creation of an MMC Taskforce, aimed at increasing the delivery of MMC housing in the UK.
256.Housebuilders are increasingly adopting MMC to deliver new homes, which may have fewer defects and be built more quickly. Make Modular explained: “In a controlled factory setting, strict overall quality assurance procedures can be more easily achieved, resulting in improved quality of construction, including reduced numbers of errors and fewer snagging issues—homes will come off the production line 97% defect-free”.390 At our visit to the St Modwen Kingsgrove development, we saw new homes being built through a mix of MMC and traditional methods, for example through a modular ‘room in the roof’.
The Berkeley Group have established a modular factory in Ebbsfleet, Kent under a new company, Berkeley Modular. The purpose-built facility covers 150,000 square feet and produces 1,000 modular homes per year; all homes include electrics, plumbing, flooring and internal fittings.391 The workforce is directly employed and there are apprenticeships available in areas including digital design, offsite assembly and site management and integration.392
Source: Barker Ross Group, ‘About Berkeley Modular’: https://www.barkerross.co.uk/clients/berkeley-modular [accessed 2 December 2021]
257.The Minister referred to the Government’s interest in MMC: “We are putting a great deal of support behind modern methods of construction … Of the properties that will be built through the new affordable homes programme, 25% will be built using MMC.” He added that “MMC is a mechanism for making sure that we get good-quality, precision-build homes, ideally designed beautifully in communities that have the infrastructure to support them.”393
258.However, the Chartered Institute of Building was concerned that “Without due diligence or professionalism … MMC could be sub-standard with limited protections for consumers as well as risk reputational damage that could undermine confidence of new housebuilding routes”.394 The Building Research Establishment highlighted similar concerns about consumers’ views of MMC:
“consumers continue to have reservations about the quality of MMC homes. With greater assurance about their quality and longevity, as well as safety and security of living in MMC properties, consumers could potentially be persuaded to adopt them in enough volume to make greater investment in it commercially viable.”395
259.Zurich Insurance identified several risks in MMC, including “the durability of the development and the increased risk of larger scale escape of water, flood, and fire damage.”396 They remarked that, since MMC are new and evolving, “contractors may have little or no previous experience of the materials, systems, and assembly techniques required”, which could lead to “structural deficiencies, because the product was installed wrong, [or] to vital safety checks being missed”.
260.The automation of production through MMC is one way of relieving the pressure on traditional trades.397 Make Modular told us that volumetric construction can introduce “50,000 flexible future economy jobs where they are needed across the UK”.398 Emma Fraser, Director of the Housing Markets and Strategy team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said: “the shift to modern methods of construction is going to be a really important driver of changes in the skill base in the industry”.399
261.MMC can help to alleviate skills shortages in construction. We welcome the creation of the Government’s MMC Taskforce, and encourage the Taskforce to focus on the potential for MMC to create more digital and manufacturing jobs in communities with high levels of unemployment.
262.MMC can help to deliver more new homes with a reduced number of defects. The Government and Homes England should help reassure consumers about the quality and safety benefits of MMC.
263.Evidence to our inquiry has shown how vital it is that that new homes are built to help meet housing demand. Building more homes will not address affordability pressures in the short term but is an essential first step to ensure that demand can be met in the long term. We heard that meeting future housing demand will require more homes of all kinds.
264.To meet that challenge, the sector needs certainty and a clear direction from the Government about reforms to the planning system and more resources to address chronic delays. It is also very important to address skills shortages in the construction and planning sectors and to allocate additional land for homes. Only if all the challenges we have identified are addressed will it be possible to boost housing supply and affordability and meet the Government’s targets in the years ahead.
336 Department for Communities and Local Government, Preparing Design Codes: A Practice Manual (November 2006): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/7623/152675.pdf [accessed 29 November 2021]
337 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, National Planning Policy Framework (27 March 2012): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-planning-policy-framework--2 [accessed 29 November 2021]
338 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, White Paper: Planning for the future
339 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, National Model Design Code (14 October 2021): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-model-design-code [accessed 7 December 2021]
350 HM Government, ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/building-better-building-beautiful-commission [accessed 29 November 2021]
351 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, White Paper: Planning for the future
352 Department for the Environment, Planning and Countryside, Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for Transport, Manual for Streets (2007): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/341513/pdfmanforstreets.pdf [accessed 29 November 2021]
353 Building Design, N’ew Office for Place is ‘not Cabe 2’, says government design advisor’ (7 August 2021): https://www.bdonline.co.uk/news/new-office-for-place-is-not-cabe-2-says-government-design-advisor/5113274.article [accessed 29 November 2021]
354 Written evidence from the Local Government Association (UKH0043) and Professor Flora Samuel University of Reading, and the Quality of Life Foundation (UKH0025)
356 Urbanist Architecture, ‘Is a Fast Track for Beauty a Good Idea? The Problems with the Government’s Big Planning Idea’ (11 March 2021): https://urbanistarchitecture.co.uk/fast-track-for-beauty-building-beautiful/ [accessed 29 November 2021]
360 Office for National Statistics, ‘COVID-19 restrictions cut household emissions’ (21 September 2021): https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/covid19restrictionscuthouseholdemissions/2021–09-21 [accessed 29 November 2021]
361 Hertfordshire Building Control, ‘The Future Homes Standard Consultation – Technical Briefing’: https://www.hertfordshirebc.co.uk/future-homes-standard/ [accessed 29 November 2021]
368 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Raising accessibility standards for new homes’ (8 September 2020): https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/raising-accessibility-standards-for-new-homes [accessed 2 December 2021]
369 Hunter Architects, ‘Lifetime homes’: https://www.hunterarchitects.co.uk/project-elements/lifetime-homes [accessed 2 December 2021]
370 London Borough of Dagenham and Barking, Lifetime Homes Standards—16 point criteria checklist: https://www.lbbd.gov.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/Lifetime-Homes-Standards-Checklist-April-2015.pdf [accessed 2 December 2021]
371 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Access to and use of buildings: Approved Document M (7 June 2021): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-and-use-of-buildings-approved-document-m [accessed 2 December 2021]
372 Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, Building better places (Report of Session 2015–16, HL Paper 100)
376 House of Commons Library, New-build housing: construction defects—issues and solutions (England), Briefing Paper Number 07665, 20 August 2020
378 All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment, More homes, fewer complaints: Report from the Commission of Inquiry into the quality and workmanship of new housing in England (July 2016): https://cic.org.uk/admin/resources/more-homes.-fewer-complaints.pdf [accessed 29 November 2021]
383 BRE, The cost of poor housing in England, Briefing paper (2021): https://files.bregroup.com/research/BRE_Report_the_cost_of_poor_housing_2021.pdf [accessed 15 November 2021]
384 National Energy Action, ‘New ONS figures reveal cold homes death toll’ (27 November 2020): https://www.nea.org.uk/news/271120–01/ [accessed 29 November 2021]
385 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘New Homes Ombudsman: factsheet’ (8 November 2021): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-safety-bill-factsheets/new-homes-ombudsman-factsheet [accessed 29 November 2021]
386 Building Safety Bill [2021–22]
387 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Building Safety Programme’ (22 December 2021): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/building-safety-programme#overview [accessed 2 December 2021]
388 National Housing Federation, ‘Funding for remediation’: https://www.housing.org.uk/our-work/building-safety/safety-tests-and-remedial-work/funding-for-remediation/ [accessed 2 December 2021]
391 Barker Ross Group, ‘About Berkeley Modular’: https://www.barkerross.co.uk/clients/berkeley-modular [accessed 2 December 2021]
392 Berkeley Group, ‘Berkeley Modular’: https://www.berkeleygroup.co.uk/about-us/who-we-are/our-brands/berkeley-modular [accessed 2 December 2021]
397 MMC are considered further in the reports, Science and Technology Committee: Off-site manufacture for construction: Building for change (2nd Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 169), and Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Modern methods of construction (Fifteenth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 1831)