Who should build our homes?

CABE has commissioned six experts with strong views to tell us what they would change to deliver more and better housing.

Cover of Who should build our homes?:

The collapse in the housing market has reignited a debate about who should build our homes. Would a different mix of housing providers give us more stability and higher quality? Is it all about restoring the way things were done in the boom or can we explore new models of housebuilding?

Who should build our homes? presents six essays by experts from across the sector. They offer their own challenge to the status quo. The proposals offer fresh ideas for investors, developers, councils and policymakers with an interest in more and better homes.

Published on 15 December 2009

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Your comments

Dennis Patton on 16 December 2009 at 2.12pm

On a personal basis, not a local authority position, this is a very refreshing and welcome debate. The solutions offered should be pursued.

Gary Osborne on 16 December 2009 at 9.25pm

Joint development between local councils and developers. If a green belt site is worth say ten thousand pound an acre to agriculture but as soon as development is mentioned the price is ten fold then why not allow the local authority to buy it at agricultural prices and form a partnership with a developer to develop the site. Then the local authority can have a share of the profit which can be used to help maintain the site and also put some money in to the local community.

This would also keep the price of land down so the price of development could be kept down which equals cheaper houses. The local authority could also decide what type of house is required for their specific areas. Also why big estates why not more smaller developments to try and create community atmospheres like small villages used to be. Decentralisation would allow local authorities to create their own funding thus releasing pressure on central government. This would also require regulatory bodies to check for fairness i.e no backhanders within the authorities.

With regards to quality a similar scheme to the way electricians and plumbers have to be adequately certified with regards to corgi and 17th edition could be introduced to builders and developers. They would have to be checked and certified that they can actually do the work they say they can. This would cut out a lot of the cowboys that seem to be able to build houses when there is a boom and a lot of money to be made. At the moment we only have the FMB and NHBC which are only voluntary organisations and not compulsory to be in.

Alan Murphy on 17 December 2009 at 10.44am

"The boom in the housing market up to 2007 also made the job more complicated. It encouraged central and local government to assume that an ever greater proportion of the social and physical infrastructure necessary to support new communities, including the provision of affordable housing, could be secured through section 106 agreements with the developers rather than being funded by the public purse through general taxation."

This has been at the heart of the problem.

Steve Gay on 18 December at 7.58am

A similar scheme to the way electricians and plumbers have to be adequately certified with regards to corgi and 17th edition already exists for builders its called CSCS!

Nigel Grimshaw-Jones on 18 December at 12.21pm

I haven't yet read the essays but I feel very strongly about the poor housing foisted onto NZ'ers over the last decade or two.

Having just returned from nearly 15 years in London the standard of housing is really poor.

My main gripe is not to do so much with size or shape but everything to do with poor materials and shoddy craftsmanship. It seems like the people in the building industry from architect to builder are just in it for the buck. Developers generally leave me cold, with dollar signs in their eyes and no care at all about our community.

Fancy building a brand new home destined for wrecking within a decade. That is the reality in Auckland at the moment. It seems that developers are laughing all the way to the bank putting up this crap toxic material for Kiwis (and Australian) homes. Who carries the can for this? Absolutely nobody is interested.

For my money when I buy a home it will be made of either wood, brick or steel or a combination of the same. It seems any natural material is preferable to the laminate plaster seen so much these days.

Ironbank is a good example of a good build. its made of Iron and it looks great. There are a number of timber, steel combo type houses out there too, (Essex Road Mt Eden) which also are good examples of modern building done right.

Everybody should care about what they build and how in this country. We should be more caring toward our visual landscape and concerned about our villages and urban environment. It's community and family.

C'mon it's more important than you realise.

Jonathan D'Hooghe on 22 December 2009 at 9.34am

I have sat here laughing at most of the comments so far published on your web page. All builder developers are cowboys who are only interested in a quick buck! What rubbish - we are a second generation family firm who have been in existence for 35 years and who, thanks to the excesses of this government and the banking industry, have had to endure and only just survived the worst recession in living memory. We hope to continue producing a realistic and sensible product that will sell in the current market - but what all of your windbag commentators fail to understand is that the cost of building a new home in 2010 is ever increasing due to changes in building regulations, increases in red tape, general price increases of materials and the move towards carbon zero construction will add further cost - and yet the price for new homes is at least 20% down on 2007 - perhaps your cloud cuckoo brigade will tell me how to stay in business given that landowners will not sell sites at depressed prices unless they are forced to by their own circumstances.

Mr Osborne and his idea that farmers will sell land for £10,000 an acre and then watch LA partnerships make huge profits for the community!! - come on its not April 1st. The facts are that the vast majority of new homes are built by the private sector and the private sector has to make profit to survive - if the country requires cheap social housing then the government has to fund the construction from general taxation - given the state of the country's finances at present this is a non starter. Get real all of you - esp those of you sat in your public sector, think tank, lobby brigade ivory towers!

Simon Skidmore on 22 December 2009 at 10.05am

The reality is it will take a long time if ever for the Housing market to recover from the economic shock of the last two years. The whole economy has had a heart attack but its still in intensive care and coming out of it will be painful.

We have a huge shortage of homes in the UK in all sectors of housing. Whilst house prices have come down they have not fell as significantly as in other recessions ouf the high demand for housing. In the future it will become increasingly difficult for people to afford thier own home with house prices having increased exponentially against salaries. Far more social housing needs to be built but I cannot see where the money is coming for that either.

A lot more housing in the future will have to be in terms of smaller scale and much more eco friendly. I have to disagree with the comment from the builder above. Whilst there are some excellent reputable builders out there a great many are not. I personally know examples of poor housing developments that needed serious remedial work within 10 years of construction due to poor quality workmanship, poor materials and building inspectors not doing there job properly in the first place.

Don't forget that its the high cost of housing that was one of the triggers that got us in the financial mess in the first place with people taking on mortgages they simply could not afford. Housing needs to be made more affordable and developers being less greedy.

Martin Field on 22 December 2009 at 11.37am

This is such a necessary debate - one of the crucial weaknesses of how 'housing' is currently created in the UK is that it is routinely presented to prospective households / owners as a finished article, with little opportunity for the household -singlely or collectively - to shape how the building and its neighbourhood take form.

At the risk of quoting some points I have put forward in another article [see 'New Start', December 2009]:

"It was in 1985 at a time of growing uncertainty on what ‘new’ housing might represent, that Pluto published a new book from Colin Ward, “When we build again, let’s get it right”. It was an impassioned argument that the building of more houses is not simply something that is solely done for people, but needs to be part of an inclusive and bottom-up practice towards creating communities, for the ultimate success of these will be in the extent that these will happen through local people having a defining influence at all stages. It is an argument for a style of sustainable planning and development relationships that is still in need of reiteration. The current debates on house numbers and wider strategies are all very well, however they risk repeating the conventional focus upon the quantity of properties, rather than on the quality of their planning and of the neighbourhoods within which they will arise ........It was the ‘we’ that was crucial to the focus of Ward’s book then, just as it is the ‘we’ that needs to be at the heart of how new neighbourhoods and communities are commissioned now. ‘Mutual’ and ‘collaborative’ routes to the creation of dwellings and common facilities need to be at the heart of future development, not left on the peripheries. As the evidence suggests, put the opportunities forward and the awards will come."

Jonathan D'Hooghe on 22 December 2009 at 12.01pm

I welcome debate and have to disagree with Mr Skidmore, developers are not greedy - we have a business to run, the same ethos would apply if we were producing and selling bikes or pushchairs. The only movable cost item in producing a new home is the cost of land. The cost to build a new home rises quarterly even in a recession but as land values fall, land owners decide not to sell - fact. Short of mass compulsory purchase by the state - perhaps all of you living in the hope of social utopia with your eco friendly homes at low prices will tell me how this is to be achieved?

David Kroll on 22 December 2009 at 1.15pm

I think one of the main problems in the housing that was built during the boom is its appalling built and spacial quality. Most of the projects fail to create sustainable communities and desireable places to live. Especially the higher density developments in Greater London are comparable to large storage shelves for people. Maybe we should just let Yellow Storage develop our housing. I think the result would be just as good.

How can we build higher quality housing? That is the question. Why was it possible to build good housing 100 years ago without the advanced technology of today?

Ray Welsh, Mercury Planning on 22 December 2009 at 2.05pm

When the supply of offices was restricted, any old rubbish sold, so that is exactly what was built. When the supply of planning permissions for offices was adequate to meet demand, any old rubbish no longer sold, so it was not built. If the supply of housing were adequate, poor quality housing would no longer sell and would therefore no longer be built. No amount of regulation is a substitute. Increased supply is therefore fundamental not only to efficiency and equity but also quality. I welcome this debate.

Ernest Hammond on 22 December 2009 at 4.12pm

Don't only blame housebuilders for the standard of market housing, especially starter homes. Developers will always build to the lowest cost option within the standards and regulations set by National Government and Local Authority guidlines.

Social housing on the other hand, has to be built to higher standards of both space and material quality, building regulations dictate this but only for social housing. These standards need to be applied to all housing to make any significant changes.

Maria Nash on 22 December 2009 at 7.35pm

With the recession in the UK not easing and causing more people to loose their homes and become homeless, there should be a change in the law to give local authorities the right to build eco-council/social housing especially for wheelchair accessible homes which the growing elderly disabled community desperately need.

If a council/social house is sold then it should be replaced by the local authority, bigger and eco-better.

Archie Hockney on 22 December 2009 at 9.10pm

Having worked in Social Housing for a number of years, it is high time that we paid much more attention to design when taking our 10% of stock from new developments. In fact to all new developments.

The true cost of building needs to take account of the future involvement of Housing Officers, the police, Social Workers, courts, probation officers and prisons. As we do not build communities, and pay so little attention to play areas, trees and green spaces, essentially the aesthetics, it is little wonder that our children grow up the way they do. We must design for living, encouraging communication between residents, allowing space between houses to minimise the effects of noise production, innovating to park cars whilst maximising greenery because of the proven benefits this has on the well-being of people. Make housing people friendly without making them car-negative. Could go on etc, etc.

We must allow children to have future space to play. Too often estates are fine for new occupants and their babies but little attention is given to the future play requirements of the teenagers that the children rapidly become. The result is noise, arguments, professional involvement and all the concomitant costs to be borne by the taxpaying society. We can and must do better. As others have already said, design and build quality housing to develop happy and sustainable communities, (not estates, {even those for the well-heeled}, that become lifeless and empty ghettos), which will benefit all of society.

Mel Bailey on 22 December 2009 at 10.21pm

Most of my comments have been said. However the common theme of poor quality builds needs addressing.

There is a need for greater quality site inspections. The old local authority site building inspectors did a good job. There keeness can still be seen today with many old council houses still standing up to the test of time.

Richard Crooks on 29 December 2009 at 11.55am

I'm a student, so a bit wet behind the ears on this, but have enjoyed reading the articles. How about this model...

1. The local authority should set up a type of “terminating” or temporary building society/co-operative common in the 19th century but revived in the 1970s by practitioners such as Rod Hackney and Walter Segal .

2. This co-operative could buy the land (compulsory purchase) before the LA provides planning consent. This funding would be sought from central Government as a loan (at a rate close to the Bank of England rate). This would hopefully remove the speculative investment of “land-banking”, whilst still providing the current land owners with the going price for agricultural land.

3. The Co-operative would allocate (sequentially) individual plots of land as the design and build process proceeds organically (per Christopher Alexander).

4. Individual buyers (with a mortgage or cash) would bid for each plot of land at auction. This would be leasehold, with an annual fee being payable to the co-operative for further investment in the infrastructure of the development. The sale would be on the basis that build will commence within a given timescale (to avoid land speculation.)

5. As 30% of the plots will be for “affordable” housing, the cop-operative will retain these and organise the build themselves with the future rental income helping repay any remaining element of the Government loan).

6. The Cop-operative would act as the agent for the local project teams (of subsidised local skilled engineers, builders and craftsmen) to encourage their use by individual buyers. (I believe group self build could be an important factor in "place making" and "place attachment")

In this way, economic value-add has been retained by the local "community" (whatever a "community" is)

Regards
Richard

Richard Crooks on 29 December 2009 at 12.00pm

Also to Jonathan D'Hooghe, should "home making" and "place making" simply be about "business"??

Jonathan D'Hooghe on 4 January 2010 at 11.15am

To Richard Crooks - Wet behind the ears sums you up beautifully! - but as a student you too will be living in a make believe land of text books and left leaning tutors.

The reality of being a small private business owner is that you have to make a profit from what you do, whether that be building homes or furniture or selling groceries.

As a smaller sized new home builder we pride ourselves on the quality of our product and the finish that we achieve. we have a reputation to maintain in our area and this does lead to brand loyalty. We have several buyers who have bought more than once from us over a period of years. We do use local authority building control as well as NHBC and Premier Guarantee. Therefore, as the vast majority of new homes in the UK will be provided by the private sector, then the answer to Richard's question is yes it is all about "business" or how do we survive as a company? Along side this business ethos has to be good design and good quality. This has not been easy in the last 10 years as central govt planning policy has pushed the whole industry down the apartment and small home high density route. We are crying out to build some traditional 2, 3 and 4 bed homes with gardens and garages.

Richard Crooks on 7 January 2010 at 10.41am

Jonathan

My main point is that I understand a significant proportion of the price of a new home is land price, as opposed to actual building costs. Do you agree? Do you also agree that there is significant land speculation and land-banking to cash in on the rise in land "value" once planning permission is granted? Do you think this current system is good for the prospective home owner or do you think it should be changed?

My second point is that many large scale housing estates that continue to be put up by the larger developers can be sub-optimal quality and rather soul-less (I live in one). This is because:

a) the pressure to make a profit (when sale prices are squeezed as costs - including land prices - continue to increase)
b) in supply-limited market with cheap credit for buyers, the developers could get away with it
c) in the current model developers have no need to take a long-term interest in the success/running costs of the development.

I am suggesting was that there have always been (and will continue to be) models that focus more on long-term affordability and "place making". If central government wanted to support such models through land/tax policy then they could.

What I proposed was one such model. Here, the major beneficiaries will be local residents / local authority (not the landowners and corporate speculators). Design of place will be created in co-operation with the new residents (not solely on the drawing board/computer in a developer's office somewhere else). Architects and builders would still make a living through working for individual plot owners/groups or the overall co-operaitve, who may just want you to help them design, build and maintain their 2,3, or 4 bedroom homes with a garden and a garage.

Are you familiar with Owenstown in Lanarkshire and what that charity cum co-operative is setting out to achieve?

Kind Regards
Richard

Jonathan D'Hooghe on 11 January 2010 at 12.11pm

Hi Richard, I promise you that we all share your aspirations to produce quality homes that families and individuals want to live in. As I said previously, we are crying out to build 3 and 4 bed family homes with garages and gardens. It's what everyone wants but central govt. social engineeering over the last 10 years has pushed the industry towards mass produced high density living - and now both the country and the industry is fed up with it. A change of policy and probably a change of govt. is required.

If you believe in a free market economy, then there will always be land speculators. Fact. The alternative is a socialist central land bank owned by the state who will then provide high density sub standard housing at the lowest cost for the masses, see Eastern Europe pre 1990. We all strive to produce a good quality product but as house prices fall/stagnate and the cost to build increases so the profitability level is squeezed as landowners will not sell on the cheap (unless they have to) - poor profitability means that UK banks will not lend to developers of our size and so the squeeze continues. I am not au fait with Owenstown

Cheers, Jonathan

Sam Appleyard on 12 January 2010 at 9.07am

With regard to Richard and Jonathan,

Richard - Great idea but a little idealistic I feel (but I am an eternal pessimist)

Jonathon - I commend you for the pride you take in delivering a quality product, but you are unfortunately a minority within your trade I feel. And furthermore '3 and 4 bed homes with garages and gardens' could end up being the main components of some seriously unsustainable communities; even if they are well built.

If the ideals you both put forwards could be combined then I feel our housing problem may be solvable: Affordable homes with good design with individuality, community focus and great public space are a must. The quality craftsmanship Jonathan talks about is a key component but this must be used to create well designed places where people feel part of a community, and Richards ideas of making communities that people actually want to live in financially viable is fantastic. I feel what is missing is the foresight at a masterplanning level to makes these ideas a reality.

We all know builders need to make a profit, but we also know that a number of developers make far too much and the end consumers lose out massively. Richards ideas would mean (hopefully) that things were much more balanced, as guys making ridiculous profits simply wouldn't get nearly as much work.

Richard Crooks on 16 January 2010 at 12.28pm

Jonathan

I have sent a link to Ownestown FYI. http://www.owenstown.org/

I do believe in the market, but markets get broken and manipulated as we all know. In this case it's the planning legislation, process and the uptick to land values when planning permission is given that is skewing the market.

I don't agree that your vision is the only (horrendous) alternative - That's why I propose my own alternative vision, idealistic or not.

Sam

Thanks for the moderating reponse. We can all be pessimists - it becomes the easy option after a while - I know. But history is littered with idealists who, through optimism, courage and leadership, got things change for the better. It just takes time and resilience. If the leaders of RIBA and the LI for example, believed there was a better way, they could (and should) influence these changes at the highest ministerial level. For example, who in the above professions is speaking to Cameron about these issues right now? I bet the large developers and land speculators are, just like they had John Prescott in their grasp last time around...

Cheers
Richard

Samuel Fisher on 16 January 2010 at 3.23pm

I have many sympathies with Jonathan. We need a market solution, but problems of land speculation are exaggerated when it is done on such a large scale. It would appear from the Barker and Callcutt Reports and the OFT market study that this market is dominated by a handful of companies listed on the stock exchange. We desperately need a truly competitive land market that will help reduce land prices.

Considering the role of listed companies in this market is important for three reasons. First, the limited number of companies that dominate has the potential to cause an oligopoly type scenario (and potentially already operates in this way). Theoretically this limited number of companies, controlling the land market through purchase options, can limit the sale of land to competitors and therefore over inflate land prices (and consequently house prices over long time periods). It therefore can reduce quality of output, as a CLG advisor said ‘The [house builders] sell homes on scarcity, not quality, and a cartel operates to reduce diversity in design' (Dr Williams, T., Regeneration & Renewal, 15 December 2006).

Second, the listed companies have a severe dichotomy between ‘shareholder value’ (for example, encouraging land price inflation) and other stakeholders such as house buyers, local communities and the environment. Whereas Callcutt recognises ‘a dichotomy exists between the need to maximise shareholder value, and the need for the [housebuilding] company as a social entity to act in a socially responsible manner’ (p 182) this dichotomy is most pronounced in listed companies that divorce ownership from the management through very limited shareholdings and intermediary insitutions. In other words, shares in listed housebuilding companies are mostly owned by financial institutions such as pension funds, these funds spread their bets so widely that they have such a small shareholding in any one company that it is not worth their time and energy in encouraging the management towards anything but the share price. The public who own the pensions (and therefore the shares) consequently don’t know where their money is invested and therefore cannot engage with the companies directly. They also have little ability to engage with companies when, for example, their pension investments are spread to widely.

In private companies, such as family owned businesses, this relationship between shareholders and management is fundamentally different. Shareholders are likely to be fewer and have a working relationship with management. This means that they are more likely to engage with the company and share responsibility for the companies output. Since they are likely to be more directly involved and have a greater say in the company’s performance (through an increase in shareholding) there is greater potential for more responsible approaches to be adopted.

Third, another advantage of privately owned housebuilding companies is that they are more likely to be local or regional companies, and more able to positively engage with the stakeholders they relate to. I believe (and I may be wrong), there is limited value in them being national operations. Perhaps this is best illustrated through the RIBA Stirling Award winning Countryside Properties who delisted from LSE in 2006 (to form a family owned company with only one other major shareholder) and decided to remain a regional company in order to focus on increasing shareholder value through primarily increasing quality over quantity.

If we are seeking higher quality housing perhaps Countryside Properties provide an example for other companies to follow. The result of being a listed company is that it appears to commoditise your product or service; this may be acceptable for computer software companies but is it really acceptable for housebuilding companies?

Richard Crooks on 17 January 2010 at 10.32am

A similar model actually in progress at High Bickerton :

http://www.communitylandtrust.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22&Itemid=38

Gayle Souter-Brown on 21 January 2010 at 1.59pm

Yesterday I drove past a new Taylor Wimpey development in Aylsebury and thought : no wonder we live in a country of low economic innovation, of depressed binge drinkers, with children enjoying the lowest quality of life in Europe.

Forgetting about the build quality and price debates for the moment I am concerned at a) the pack-'em-all-in orientation of the homes does nothing for passive solar gain b) lack of trees within the estates and particularly around the homes does nothing for air quality, bio diversity or countering the urban heat island effect c) lack of individual outdoor living space ( a balcony with space for potted plants, table and chairs will do) or even a green view compromises quality of life, physical health and mental health of the inhabitants d)small window size and lack of multi-aspect windows again impacts as for c).

We need to address fundamental issues of urban planning and public health when looking at planning applications for new housing developments, whether from developers or councils. Until we change the way we design how we live we will maintain our unenviable position as Europe's most obese, most depressed, living in ultimately unsustainable communities. It's no wonder the NHS and indeed the nation is going broke with our housing stock - existing and new developments - designed the way it is.

How and where we live shapes how we relate to the world. At the moment the question of who should build our homes needs to be tempered with the equally important question of how we build our homes. Only with continued debate will we encourage change.

Newbuild homeowner on 13 March 2010 at 3.58pm

We stupidly bought a new build taylor wimpey house on a supposedly new type of 'sustainable high quality flagship development'. This development, constructed over the last seven years, is a monument to everything that is dysfunctional/wrong within the uk housebuilding industry. Poor quality housing, no play areas, no local shops, no trees, inadequate parking, crap landscaping, inadequate open space, inadequate public transport, no community facilities etc. etc. etc.

Planning conditions breached, building regs breached, health & safety breached (all documented) the list goes on and on and on. All this presided over by the, incompetent, lazy,we need the section 106 money, planning department of the Local Authority.

This scenario has and is being repeated up and down the country.

The national housebuilders, the government and local authorities are all gearing up for a return to business as usual, just like the banks.

Who should build our homes? None of the above.