Down in Dorset at the weekend for a family wedding, I had lunch at my now sister-in-law’s mother’s house. Having recently returned to the county she had bought a house in Charlton Down, a new village on a site that, until its closure in 1992, operated as a mental hospital. The redevelopment started in 1998 and finished in 2006 and included the renovation of three of the original buildings. They now boast 70 apartments each as well as a further 300 new houses.
In some ways it was like every new development: the sat nav couldn’t quite pinpoint the address and the road signs were in slightly the wrong place, leading to a few wrong turns. However, as far as I was concerned this provided a great excuse to have a nose around.
This relatively new development was visually appealing and had managed to engender a sense of community that was tangible behind a car window. Looking out, it made me wonder how often we stop and consider whether, in our drive to deliver the homes we need, we are creating the right sort of housing. It was easy to see where its aesthetic appeal came from: the development was set on a slope making it feel older than it is, the streets were narrow and trees were viewable in every direction making you feel as if you were in a woodland. The lack of uniformity from one house to the next and the rusticated materials were certainly contributing factors to its overall attractiveness.
It seems I am not alone in thinking that delivering the homes we need does not have to come at the expense of creating good quality, well designed ones. Brandon Lewis pointed out earlier this summer that we need to go further stating that, “building new homes of good quality will ensure that residents can support development and be proud of what it does for their community”.
Not only are my thoughts on this occasion aligned with that of the Minister of State for Housing and Planning but also the population at large. A study carried out by the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit found that 73% of people would support the building of new homes if well designed and in keeping with their local area: more Londoners (40%) think that building fewer homes with higher design standards would be better than building more homes with lower design standards (27%). But why does that need to be the choice? It’s probably fair to say at this point that there is a cost price argument that could be brought into the debate between creating a development that delivers houses and one that delivers attractive homes and a sense of community. I would however argue that a slate roof seemingly goes a long way.