There would be much less opposition to new house-building if we were building the right houses. That's the claim made by the Policy Exchange think tank in their new paper "Building More, Building Beautiful".
The authors argue that people want to live in homes that engender feelings of belonging, pride and happiness. When people are asked which features they consider most important in a new home, consistent messages come back. People want thick, sound resistant walls, more spacious, but fewer rooms, feature windows, exposed brick facades and high ceilings.
"The public has a preference on design and style. To achieve consensus on building new homes at the rate required, we should begin meeting it," they say.
Policy Exchange would like to see every local planning authority produce a design and style guide in consultation with local residents. A design panel should be set up by each authority, including local architects, and house-builders should be told the designs and styles that will be approved of. This sounds like it would overlap with the role Neighbourhood Plans are meant to take on.
Local residents should be consulted more on the design of new properties. "Planners should view favourably developments where the local public has demonstrably been consulted from an early stage on its form and design." For larger developments, they propose further rules. "Every new development over 150 units should have a consultant architect appointed by the local council, but paid for by the developer."
Complaints that our current system encourages developers to put profit over build quality are not new. The Policy Exchange paper covers them too.
Shelter and KPMG have called it the 'land price trap'. The typical business model of developers means they "must guess the future sales price of homes many months or years in advance of a sale in order to determine how much to pay for land." To achieve set profits, developers are essentially trapped into this formula.
Policy Exchange would like to see their recommendations included in the next NPPF revision. That's a tall order, but with an introduction from Housing Minister James Brokenshire, they must feel they've got something of a head start.
Is Policy Exchange right?
In BECG's experience, there's little public consultation on the design or appearance of houses within the planning process - often none at all. And we've no doubt that local residents would welcome more say on house designs in their area. But would such a change really shift public opinion in favour of local house-building?
We're not convinced. Where people oppose to new homes in their area, design is rarely the issue. Far more common are concerns about loss of green space, increased traffic and pressure on schools, medical centres and other local amenities.
And it may be that, with planning departments underfunded and overstretched across the country, what's needed is more resources to help planners do their jobs properly rather than yet more planning guidance to stretch them even further.
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