Housing conditions will always feature in your caseload, but your involvement in new schemes could reduce problems in the future.

Copyright Design for homes/Richard Mullane.

Copyright Design for homes/Richard Mullane.

The good news is that you no longer have to travel to Germany or Denmark to see well designed new housing. Just look at the schemes that have won Building for Life awards here in England – there are plenty of good examples within easy reach now that reflect our own culture and context.

High quality design is not about architectural style but about creating places that work well: road layouts that prioritise pedestrians; public spaces that are safe and attractive; buildings that are at an appropriate scale and density to support local services. A well-designed neighbourhood should also be sustainable – socially, economically and environmentally.

New homes in attractive, sustainable neighbourhoods are more likely to be welcomed by existing communities.

What you can do about housing

  • Make it clear to developers that you will only accept well-designed housing schemes – get officers to develop web content, use the local media or perhaps set up a developers’ forum to get the message across. It is up to applicants to convince you that their scheme is right for your area
  • If your authority has a design policy, you can use it to insist that housing designs are high quality
  • Insist on good design in planning applications by:
    • using Building for Life to assess schemes based on 20 criteria including character, roads, parking and pedestrianisation, and environment and community as well as design and construction
    • checking for specific commitments to quality in proposals
    • looking for evidence that proposals are not just taken off the shelf but respond to the needs of your particular community and to the particular location
    • asking to see design and access statements: expect to see what the scheme will look like and look for specific rather than generic statements
    • looking to the advice of your expert planning team but be prepared to question and critique proposals.
  • Even if your council is not the planning authority, it may still be responsible for areas like highways that can have a big influence on the quality of new schemes. Investigate whether it has the right policies on design quality and the right mix of skills.
  • Your council may also be able to influence design quality as a developer of new homes in its own right or as a partner in larger schemes, perhaps as a landowner. This may give you additional levers – ask officers what steps are being taken to maximise your influence of the design quality of new schemes.

How do you know if a proposal is any good? Use our seven principles of good urban design to help.

Resources for housing

Building for Life

The national standard for well-designed homes and neighbourhoods run by a partnership of national agencies led by CABE and the Home Builders Federation.


Section of CABE website devoted to housing.

CABE housing publications

Starting point for all CABE guides and advice on housing.

Housing audit: North West, North East, Yorkshire & Humber
Housing audit: East Midlands, West Midlands, South West
Housing audit: London, East of England, South East

Full results of CABE’s housing audit in England broken down by region.

Homes for our old age: independent living by design

Featuring 10 case studies of housing schemes for older people, offering inventive design and management solutions linking home and social care.

Housing case studies

Bishops Mead, Chelmsford

Bishops Mead, Chelmsford
Photo by Ashley Bingham and Mark Ellis at A&M Photrography

Chelmsford: planning for new homes

Cllr Neil Gulliver, cabinet member for planning, became design champion at Chelmsford Borough Council in 2003 and has helped build on the authority’s reputation for good practice in residential planning that had been established under predecessors like Professor Tony Hall.

The problem: Chelmsford is not a housing growth area but it does have housing growth pressures – this in a largely suburban area where many see high-density housing as radical.

The response: Cllr Gulliver followed a professional town planner as design champion in an authority that already had a long history of design skills in the planning department. He realised you do not need to be an expert in design to do the job but you need to recognise design and how it affects ordinary lives. The influence of a leading councillor and chief officer can change the mindset of existing staff and change the emphasis of the planning process from legalistic to spatial.

The result: CABE housing audits have highlighted the key role of the local authority in achieving quality. Chelmsford has demanded this from housebuilders and succeeded in getting them to appoint good architects, modify or drop standard house types and design new house types and one-off buildings. Through negotiation it has also achieved neighbourhoods with designs based on urban design principles such as continuous frontage, legible routes and buildings that address public space.

Norfolk Park Green Homes, Sheffield

Norfolk Park Green Homes, Sheffield
Photo by Mikael Schilling and Matthew Lloyd Architects

Sheffield: supporting good design

The involvement of local councillors at a number of different levels was crucial to the successful completion of the Norfolk Park Green Homes project. Ward councillors including Cllr John Robson were involved in the selection of the architect for the scheme and local members also made a decision on funding it at a sub-regional level through the Transform South Yorkshire board. Later, the cabinet member for housing, Cllr Bob McCann, played a key role in finding a way forward after the original developer went into liquidation and supported a decision to sell it to Places for People housing association. This enabled one of the key objectives of the scheme – affordability – to be met.

The problem: An area of substandard1960s housing built during the slum clearances was declining rapidly by the 1980s. In the 1990s grant funding was used to create the Norfolk Park masterplan.

The response: Matthew Lloyd Architects paired the area’s main asset – sweeping views of Sheffield city centre – with a strong environmental ethos and distinctive architectural approach. The tenure and accommodation mix was agreed with local people in advance. Impressive environmental credentials include sustainable urban drainage, solar hot water, high thermal efficiency and charging points for electric vehicles. According to John Robson, it has ‘established a template for future building in Sheffield’ by creating housing that is attractive and environmentally responsive.

The result: Just a mile from the city centre, Norfolk Park Green Homes offers fantastic views of the city centre from homes that are contemporary and distinctive. The scheme offers residents a greener way of living and cheaper household running costs, earning praise for its ambitious approach to environmental performance. Winner of a 2009 Building for Life award, the success of Norfolk Park Green Homes proves that a passionate client, a talented design team and a committed local community can combine to create well-designed places.

North West Leicestershire: championing excellence

Council leader Richard Blunt and chief executive Christine Fisher became design champions at North West Leicestershire in 2008. North West Leicestershire’s vision was to improve the quality of its new homes, enabling it to market the area as offering residents a higher quality of life. The council joined with neighbouring South Derbyshire in funding the appointment of a shared urban design advisor and made a commitment to achieving the Building for Life silver standard for new homes.

The problem: The East Midlands had previously achieved the lowest scores in CABE’s national housing audit. The councilidentified recently completed sites in their area and found that their quality was consistent with CABE’s findings.

The response: North West Leicestershire secured enabling support from CABE to do Building for Life assessments on completed residential developments to determine a local baseline for housing quality. The information gathered formed the basis of a business case for a council design initiative that was approved in December 2008. Called ‘ourplace’, it focuses on encouraging and inspiring people to create and expect places that contribute positively to everyday lives and supporting the natural, built and social environment. The initiative has attracted considerable interest for its innovative approach to raising the standard of new homes and neighbourhoods – an approach based on supporting consumers in finding their ideal place to live. It has also been successful in levering external funding from the housing and planning delivery grant, regional efficiency and improvement partnership and the National Forest Company.

The result: Within two years of CABE support, the council is witnessing a positive impact on the quality of design, particularly residential led developments.