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Are homes in the UK poorly designed?

For some time, there has been lively debate about the quality of the design of building – and especially housing – in the UK.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) is the UK government’s adviser on design.  Its 2011 report – The cost of poor design – argued that, too often, buildings were badly built and the public had to live with a built environment that did not work, at great cost.

In similar vein, an article in the Telegraph in 2014 argued that, as a nation, we are better at designing and building office buildings than we are homes and that much of the mass housing built in the last 50 years was poorly designed.

Encouraging better design

Various bodies work with government to encourage better housing design.  These include CABE and the Royal Town Planning Institute.  Initiatives include the Built for Life quality mark and the Design and quality standards for affordable housing and the housing design awards. 

The place of design in planning

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) discusses the importance of good design.  The Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) more detailed planning practice guidance on design also sets out why good design matters.

Local planning authorities should (the NPPF says) spell out their expectations and might want to use design codes, but these should not be too prescriptive and local authorities should not attempt to impose particular architectural styles or stifle innovation.  The planning process should (the NPPF continues) attach great weight to outstanding or innovative design, while poorly-designed developments should be refused.

In the planning white paper published in February 2017, DCLG said that it expected developers to focus on design and quality.  DCLG also promised local communities a greater say, arguing that this would improve the quality and character of new development, and pledged support for custom-built homes, saying that these would offer people more design choice.

House of Commons Library briefings

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