Most new housing designs in England are 'substandard', audit finds

by Adela Suliman | @adela_suliman | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 15:29 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A builder working for Taylor Wimpey on construction site in Aylesbury, Britain, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

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The audit reviewed more than 140 housing developments built since 2007 and found 1 in 5 should have been refused planning permission

By Adela Suliman

LONDON, Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three quarters of new housing developments in England are so badly designed they should never have been built, according to an independent audit released on Tuesday.

Britain has seen a building boom in recent years spurred by government policies designed to address a housing shortage that has pushed up prices and contributed to homelessness.

The national audit, conducted by University College London (UCL), reviewed more than 140 housing developments built across England since 2007 and found one in five should have been refused planning permission.

Another 54% should have had 'significant improvements' to their designs with flaws ranging from poor access to roads to lack of waste storage facilities, parking or high quality green spaces, the report said.

"It's really a national tragedy," said the report's author Matthew Carmona, a professor at UCL's Bartlett School of Planning.

"The pressure to build is in a sense absolutely right, we need more homes, but we need more homes of a good quality that people can thrive in and communities can grow in," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The number of new homes built in England topped 170,000 in the year to June, according to government data, an 11-year high, boosted by a 'Help to Buy' scheme that offers buyers of newly built homes a government equity loan.

The scheme, targeted at new-build properties, is designed to help buyers with a small deposit get access to mortgage financing.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, a representative body, said the overwhelming majority of new home buyers were "happy with their new home and the wider environment around it".

The UCL audit found poor communities were 10 times more likely to get badly designed homes - even when a better design was affordable.

The quality of Britain's social housing has been under intense scrutiny since a fire killed 71 people at London's Grenfell Tower in 2017.

An inquiry last year found that combustible material on the building's exterior had contributed to the scale of the tragedy.

Britain has experienced a shortage of social housing since the 1980s, when the government allowed tenants to buy their homes at rock-bottom prices without replacing the stock.

Since then, years of underbuilding, rising rents and cuts to social-housing benefits have exacerbated the problem.

"There is no excuse for shoddy design," a spokeswoman for Britain's ministry of housing told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

"We also expect developers to make sure new homes are well designed, and our new national design guide sets out how beautiful places can be achieved in practice, ensuring slap-dash proposals don't get built."

(Reporting by Adela Suliman @Adela_Suliman; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit for more stories.)

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