Expert View: New homes must be beautiful

Alastair Woodgate, Rumball Sedgwick

Alastair Woodgate, Rumball Sedgwick - Credit: Archant

Alastair Woodgate, Director of leading local Chartered Surveyors Rumball Sedgwick, considers the question of good design in new developments.

“Not in my back yard” is a phrase often associated with new housing, but if the quality of new design was higher could nimbyism be overcome? Well that’s the suggestion in a report issued a few days ago.

‘Building More, Building Beautiful’ published by think tank Policy Exchange, suggests that the housing crisis will only be solved if the developers of new homes place more emphasis on design and style to gain the support of existing communities.

It is a challenging task to create from scratch a residential environment that takes account of the natural attributes and constraints of the site - and one that will mature into a place that is distinctive, attractive, and safe.

Acknowledging the particular characteristics of a town and landscape, satisfying neighbouring residents, appealing to prospective buyers, and making a profit for developers and landowners at the same time is difficult: if it was easy, such developments would be the norm rather than rare exceptions.

Creating attractive communities is a vitally important design task. The quality of our environment shapes our attitude to life. 84 per cent of the report’s respondents feel that better quality buildings and public spaces improve people’s happiness and quality of life. 65 per cent think traditionally designed housing helps foster positive community relations.

The report found that almost half of people surveyed across the UK believe not enough new homes are being built. Less than 30 per cent of people in the South East believe too many homes are being built in their area. In fact, people are generally positive about new homes.

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But respondents also said that cost is too often an excuse for badly designed, soulless new developments. Driving around Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire I come across many similarly styled developments that could be ‘Anytown’ anywhere. It wouldn’t be impossible to give schemes local character.

The report suggests that every local planning authority should produce a design and style guide in consultation with local residents and that accelerated planning permission be given for developments which reflect that guide.

And, to give residents confidence that new developments will be in keeping with the existing, key sites could be designated ‘Special Areas of Residential Character.’

It’s a popular myth that good design is inherently expensive: some aspects of good design can be achieved with little or no additional costs and without reducing density or adding expense.

Well executed detail, good articulation to elevations and high quality planting, for example, can have significant impact at little cost to an overall scheme.

The report states: “If a record number of new homes are to be built in the coming years, let us aim for them to be beautiful.” With the Local Plan proposing significant and necessary new development in this district, “hear, hear” I say.

For all your property advice contact Alastair and his team at