Design Council Cabe launches Design Wayfinder on the #NPPF and Design Guidance

Design Council Cabe 

Design now has an even stronger role to play in the planning system, both in terms of plan making and decision taking. While the Government has announced a strategic review of guidance documents, there is a wealth of expertise and evidence on how best to achieve good quality design outcomes which are still relevant today.

Design Council Cabe has commissioned a short ‘wayfinding’ document to help planners and others make the case for good design. This document is supported by the Planning Officers SocietyRTPIRIBA, and Landscape Institute.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in late March, makes it unambiguously clear that achieving design quality is an important part of good planning. The NPPF is deliberately short and has swept away other policy guidance, particularly PPS1, on design that has informed and influenced development plans and decisions on applications.

In future planning authorities, applicants (and their advisers) and local communities will be expected to take responsibility for securing good design, and for taking the opportunities available to improve an area. The Design Wayfinder provides help for authorities, developers and communities. It identifies the main sources of guidance and best practice on good design, on robust local plan policies on design, and the type of analysis required to decide whether proposed development is acceptable.

A Shotgun Solution to Our Housing Crisis #ukhousing #NPPF

At the time of the blitz we had to houses 100s of thousands of people in an emergency.  To meet the scale of the problem emergency measures were enacted, ensuring that the normal building by laws that controlled building in the pre-modern planning age were not a barrier to meeting an urgent need.  That solution?  Prefabs.

Churchill, following a recommendation of the 1942 Burt Committee enacted the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944.  Why did it take two years?

With an anticipated 200,000 shortfall in post-war housing stock, the act proposed to build 500,000 prefabricated houses (EFM houses – Emergency Factory Made), with a planned life of up to 10-15 years within five years of the end of World War II.

The emergency programme is to be treated as a military evolution handled by the government with private industry harnessed in its service. As much thought will go into the prefabricated housing programme as went to the invasion of Africa.

The Ministry of Works (top of my list of ministries to resurrect) set out common standards, but commercial rivalry and lack of skills in prefab building led it to stall though not before 156,623 units were constricted.  Yes we can be that precise.  Many were located on sites always designed to be temporary, such as in Northwick Park in North London.  Despite the short life span intended many were very popular and a few, such as in Peckham and Wake Green Road Birmingham, have been listed.  The recent proposal to demolish the Excalibur estate of such houses in Catford caused some controversy.

The popular pheonix units by Laings which most listed examples are cost only 1,200 to constrict.  Sweden even exported 5,000 prefabs to England,  Three of them still stand inn Shorne in Kent.

We think of housing as expensive.  Housing is not expensive, land is, but only because land owners expect a huge uplift on consent for doing absolutely nothing except hire a solicitor to sub,it a SHLAA application.  Housing need not be expensive.  A great example is the shotgun houses of the Southern United States.

They have similar dimensions to phonix units but slightly smaller and end on with a porch.  The common myth is that that if you opened the doors the pellets from a shotgun would fly cleanly to the other end of the house.  A nice twist on open plan.

Their origins lie in the houses built by freed slaves and were very popular even amongst the middle classes.  As wealth grew they bacame symbols of poverty for a while and many were cleared, but now are seen as great examples of historic architecture and survving areas are now often protected heritage areas. Elvis Presley was born in one,

Elvis’s Birthplace Tupelo

They have narrow widths, typically around 3.5 m (to avoid tax on plots over 12′ wide), which means that many could be built on a street, but the rooms are well sized.  Very common is the ‘double barrelled’ shotgun where two share a partition wall.

Attempts are being made to revive them today, particularly as New Oleans rebuilds from Hurricane Katrina.

Sustainable.TO has designed a modern Shotgun house to passivhaus standards.  2 bedrooms with a 23m x 7.6m footprint

Today we face a housing shortage as great as any war.  As I have stated here the number of units deleted from draft development plans in the light of the conservatives early anti-development localist drive exceeds the number of houses bombed in the second world war.  They have an obligation to make up for what they must know acknowledge was a stupid policy mistake.

Can we build 150,000+ affordable modular and portable low cost units a year in 5 years?

Of course we can, and heres how to do it without increasing national debt.

My plan is to set up local housing partnership (covering several districts)  by a modern equivalent of the 1944 act.  These would be non state bodies run by local RSLs with board membership for those on the housing waiting list or on housing benefit seeking a new house.

The government would delegate spending of housing benefit and mortgage relief to those who are in default to these bodies, but with the proviso that this would decrease significantly per year to say a 50% reduction over 10 years, with gaurenteed level fixed in nominal terms over the next 15 years.  The government could then plan for reductions in spending, the partnerships however would have a state guaranteed revenue stream against which they could borrow or receive ‘credit easing’ direct from the government.

These partnerships would then have to build social housing and quickly or go bankrupt. The key risk that builders unusually face would be gaining planning consent.  In many areas, such as Stratford, Mid Beds etc. etc. the planning system has failed because it now seems there is no way that local councillors will ever grant permission or allocate sufficient housing to meet urgent need.  In these areas, perhaps 1/4 to 1/3rd of England we face another 5+ years of local plans being dragged out and cans kicked down the road hoping for a change in national policy, a trick successfully played in the Brown era as eventually Eric Pickles came along.

The draft NPPF proposed a very bad solution – build permanent housing to poor standards on bad sites.  The final NPPF is based on the assumption that in the next 1-2 years local plans will be in place or else the dogs of war in terms of appeal led planning will be unleashed, and then granted on appeals these houses will be built in a new Heseltine type mortgage boom.  Some LPAs like Vale of White Horse and Cheshire East are valiantly working on interim policies, granting just enough permissions on   unallocated sites to bump up to 5 years.  But there is no indication that even then such houses would be built and mortgages granted.  For many other LPAs they will play any trick with their housing needs evidence and drag the process out by any means to ensure that the decisions lie with inspectors or the SoS on call in.  Many localities will not be able to build enough locally without breaching Green Belt etc.  Will Duty To Cooperate come to their aid, no evidence of that whatsoever.  Look at Essex and Kent for example, are their any partnerships even in nascent form to displace need to beyond the Green Belt authorities – none whatsover – the Duty to cooperate has already failed as a replacement for regional planning and over the next few years we shall watch the car crash in slow motion.

Will Garden Cities come to the aid?  I would like to think so but their is limited incentive or requirement for one LPA to meet the displace need of another, other than multiple LPAs fighting it out for years at each others EiPs – what a joke.  I would love more Garden Cities to protect excessive loss of Green Belt and to meet in part our housing crisis, but without a proper enabling act by government (which ill blog on separately) it wont happen as there is no off the shelf legal and operational model to meet Garden City/Suburb aims.

Rather we need a temporary solution to meet the war on housing shortages, we need a mass building programme of modular passivehaus units on temporary sites that dont need conventional planning permission.  The plan has x elements.

  • Firstly it makes a distinction between temporary houses and temporary consents.  The houses could be designed for a life of 100+ years and designed to be moved several times in their life on the back of a large loader.
  • Secondly the SoS would grant by a special development order the ability for these local partnerships to grant themselves planning permission for 5 years (with certain restrictions) – following an 8 week consultation period with the LPA.   The idea would be to give LPAs breathing space to allocate enough land for permanent sites and an incentive to work with local partnerships on indicating sites which would be suitable sites.  These units could be raised up (like in New Orleans) and have self contained sanitation.  This means they could physically be located almost anywhere for temporary periods.  The LPA would have the power to impose conditions on layout, landscape etc. and would have the power to refuse schemes (subject to appeal) if the access would be unsafe.
  • By law at least 1/2 of all units would be available to the local community and could be nominated by them, this would reduce local opposition.
  • Each site would be pepperpotted by no more than one or two G&T pitches.  If spread around in this way and integrated with the settled community opposition is likely to decease.
  • Landowners would lease the land for 5 years.  The local partnerships would be in a strong position, if the owner asked for many times agricultural value the partnership could simply walk away.. I would anticipate that a large proportion of units would go on stalled brownfield sites where landowners are keen to secure a temporary productive use.
  • Tenants and low income local residents would have the opportunity to buy the house but not the land.  They would also have a guarantee in law that the house would be relocated by the partnership at the expiry of any temporary planning consent if not renewed at no increase in ground rent (which again would mean partnerships would be a strong bargaining position with landowners) Lets say we can keep the construction cost down to less than 20k per unit if a passivhaus unit it would save the average family over £1,500 a year in fuel costs.  Capitalised over 20 years the houses would cost next to nothing.  There would be wobbles by our notoriously conservative mortgage providers, so why not offer tailored mortgages through the new Green Investment Bank.
  • Local partnerships would individually or jointly tender contracts for the houses.  A round of initial experimentation would likely be followed by large contracts of housing types proven popular and to work.  It is likely that continental modular and kit builders would have a strong advantage but if they are canny they will develop local partners shifting large parts of contraction and assembly to the UK.  They is something you can get from a  large contract (as we know from the Defence Industry) which you can’t get with small ones.

So with this mechanism we could build over 150,000+ cheap units a year without funding or planning risk – so why arent we doing it straight way.  You will also not it is an alternative means for boosting housebuilding to the necessary circa 250,000 a year + backlog we need without relying on the unreliable ‘volume’ housebuilders which have never proven in the post-war period that they can scale their operations or raise their quality standards to the required level.

Ive already begun to sketch out designs, including a high UV glass house, using PV embedded in the glass where instead of closing curtains you flick a switch and the whole house (or any glass panel) turns opaque any any colour you choose using three overlaid (RGB) elecroreactive  laminates – cool, as well as slot in out toilet modules, bolting two units together double barrelled style to create 4 and 6 bed units, and a DDA act compliant ramp which simply folds down at the flick of a switch and is would back up by a crank.

To requote the Churchill quote above

As much thought will go into the ecological modular housing programme as went to the war on terror

Richard Benyon’s New Press Release on the Cull

The Myth: 

There have been recent reports that Defra is proposing to cull unemployed benefit spongers or is about to implement a new policy to control their numbers. 

The Truth: 

Defra is absolutely not proposing to cull the workshy or any other members of the non productive classes.  We simply wish to reduce the national debt and the taxes on large landowners such as myself by ensuring they do not feed in ways which leave us out of pocket.

We work on the basis of sound evidence.  This is why we want to find out the true extent of chavs preying on the landed gentry and bankers, and how best to discourage oiks that may cause damage to legitimate rentier businesses.   This would be only in areas where there is a clear problem, using non-lethal methods including increasing diversionary restrictions of housing benefit, moving the buggers elsewhere or destroying council homes where there is no money to bring them up to decent homes standard. The results of this scientific research will help guide our policy on this issue in the future.

As the JRF have said grinding poverty has recovered wonderfully over the last few years, and we want to see this continue.

‘Gummer Rule’ House falls down on ‘Innovative construction’

We all love a pithy sentence in an inspectors decision letter.  This one is a classic.  It involved an application to build a house in isolated countryside in Vale of White House under the gummer exemption for truly outstanding or innovative design.

The Inspector Jane Miles found the house’s design was of quality, but not particularly innovative, just very large, an additional argument was made about it innovative energy saving building method.

I note the project seeks to demonstrate the method’s suitability for mainstream building projects, but it would seem more logical to do this on a mainstream building site.

Volume Housebuilders no longer want to build in Volume

Building has some interesting research

An analysis by Building of the most recent full-year results from the eight major publicly listed housebuilders, shows that while pre-tax profits rose by 161% in 2011 to £556m on the previous year, the number of homes built increased by just 3% to 45,018. Operating profits also rose 47% over the same period.

What is happening?  In large part the change is due to the large housebuilders, we can no longer call them volume housebuilders, have shifted to the high margin, small number of units, cherry picked, large houses, low risk, high end of the market and away from the high risk low cost end of the market.

The question is whether if with a resumption of confidence and mortgage lending they are able to resume volume building?

If they cannot, and with the heavy weight of sites on their balance sheets they paid way too much for they may not be able to, then if at some point we did have a proper ‘plan b’ of major investment in housing including social housing, we have to ask who can.  We need to start thinking about alterative volume housing delivery models now so they are ‘shovel ready’ when plan B does eventually come – as it might in a panic at very short notice.

Grant Shapps Admits Defeat on Housebuilding Numbers

Inside Housing

Statistics from the National House Building Council today reveal that 20 per cent fewer homes were registered in England in the three months to the end of April 2012 than in the same period last year. In the public sector fewer than half as many homes were registered this year.

The news comes as housing minister Grant Shapps told news agency Bloomberg the government was unlikely to build the number of homes needed. He said: ‘If in the boom we were only building 170,000 – still well shy [of the number of homes needed] – and today we are facing an incredibly tough global economy… if you couldn’t do it then, it’s even harder now.’