Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A Framework for Standards for the North East

There are recent questions and much professional outrage over the public subsidy given for poor quality housing as part of the HCA Kickstart programme, with Housing Minister Grant Shapps stating that... 'Government needs to lead by example'(1) relation to this Kickstart programme. Yet in another statement Shapps has stated that ' is an unfair and unnecessary expense for developers to require additional building standards for public build, at a time when the country desperately needs to build more homes'.(2)

This is just part of the current paradox evident in the resulting discussions and implications that we should lower the minimum quality standards for housing in order to stimulate the level of activity within the housing market. While we wait for central government and quango guidance, built professionals are left with a set of inherited and sometimes contradictory standards(3) that have in effect been developed for different reasons, by different organisations, with different statutory status and just package together. Indeed, a '... [c]lose examination of recent housing quality standards indicates a tendency to adopt a piecemeal approach that relies on outdated data sources and references... [a] process of cobbling together existing standards.'(4)

Yet this paradox isn't new. Since the formation of the Homes and Communities Agency there has been a constant tension between the slightly conflicting remits of promoting quality and sustainability through the inherited design standards of English Partnerships, and the delivery of housing completions against Housing Corporation indicators. Despite the evidence that housing quality has historically been higher and benefits from voluntary and organisational standards(5), on balance there still appears to be an obsession with housing numbers(6) and using the confusing term 'delivery' as a trump card rather than quality, giving the impression that making something or anything happen today is always better than waiting for the right quality development to happen at a later date. This empirical and short term emphasis has continued within the north east(7); although some localised studies(8) within the region's communities show that qualitative issues such as flexibility, size, security and build quality are significant differentials between developments within a neighbourhood, with most having a minimum level of 'expected' standards on energy performance and public realm quality at the same time. Yet the normative bias continues in almost every scheme where short term thinking, suggesting that development quality costs, continually results in watered down proposals.

Nationally the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has argued for consistency over a basic minimum level of quality(9) and, in a considered response to the impact of the credit crunch on the house building industry(10), made significant points around the unique nature of the housing product as part of a localised 'community' market that operates imperfectly due to limited choice and variations over individuals' understanding and definition[s] of quality.

Another paradox of the housing industry is the rational and normative models that are used to explain irrational markets. CABE's arguments that quality pays for itself over time are well made and repeated at the national and regional level(11).

Yet the lack of investment in the quality and sustainability of development within the north east suggests that this message has been ignored, or has been unconvincing evidence for developers with a short term remit - the same reasons of long term maintenance costs and liability seems to justify why public sector standards have been consistently higher.

Yet in spite of the complex and sometimes conflicting nature of housing standards and the prevalent view that they are simply an additional and unnecessary cost for every stage of operation within development industry, there has to be a view that having them, even in imperfect form, is better than not having them?

So why not take the government at face value and trust that they are interested in simplified and integrated design and sustainability standards that are supported by every sector of the construction industry? One response to this position would be to bring forward a framework for regional standards within the North East. The starting point for discussions for such a framework is a set of draft rules informed by a mix of recent ministerial statements relating to housing design standards and by comparative approaches, most significantly being the CNU inspired Hope VI programme(12). This was translated within the UK context as the Mixed Communities Initiative(13) and even included a first phase case study at South Bank in Redcar and Cleveland proving it is both relevant and transferable to the north east. It is similar to the high level approach recently established within the Tees Valley(14) that explicitly links economic realities; in the form of long term social, environmental and economic value; within the functional requirements for new housing development. Any framework has to be about getting the basic principles correct and working from there rather than simply redrafting and rehashing the mixed set of existing standards we already have, and where necessary fitting these to the region or sub region. This doesn't mean we should ignore what we already have but that it should be revised on the basis of the fit with some commonly shared set of principles.

Hope VI Principles for the North East of England Region

As a starting point, I would propose a broad scope of factors and rules that has to be addressed within any set of regional design principles. These can in turn form the basis for a mix of substantive and procedural standards.

Rule 1 Co-Design

Development has to meet end-users requirements. There should be explicit consideration of options for more clearly defining the end-user requirements through involvement in the drafting of the project brief through to potential for active community planning at concept design, options testing and detailed proposal stages. There should be close working with the end-user [often but not always the client] to get the parameters of the brief right, to test the concepts and review the detailed designs directly with them. This approach should be in addition to effectively using the existing evidence(15) provided by post occupancy evaluation on the requirements for both new housing and neighbourhoods. This is inherently a two-way dialogue that begins with a good collaborative project and continues post-construction. The starting point is to get the brief right at the start.

Rule 2 Integrated Design

Design and developments should be progressed by working together with the right team. Proposals should be developed in cooperation with house builders, designers and partners within the extended supply chains. The technical requirements of sustainability have set new challenges for the construction and development industry(16) that are relevant to both new build and retrofit projects(17) that require a refreshed approach to collaborative working. There should be key benefits and increased synergy whenever salespeople become part of an integrated design team and understand how their products will be used and how they fit within the shared project aims.

Rule 3 Affordable Design

Proposals have to be realistic and affordable. Information from housing needs and affordability can provide the basis for linked financial products as well as for setting a price target for sale or for letting. It is too simplistic to consider issues of affordability by reducing building costs or using subsidised land. The fresh thinking on affordability(18) measured against local incomes should be linked to creative financial products that consider wider neighbourhood issues such as the availability or affordability of public transport and specific energy consumption costs, as part of a more realistic consideration of disposable household income that has benefits for more sustainable, better quality and better located developments. Perhaps this could link to more radical green investment ideas(19) for the use of patient public and private money in the provision of 'transition' homes.

Rule 4 Quality Design

Developments should be well built with good quality materials, detailing and finishing. Quality isn't necessarily about style. This sounds common sense but it does require thinking around design detailing, specifications and then build quality through the construction stages. So ideally this approach should be reflected in the monitoring and assessment of the build quality, with appropriate use of a clerk of works and post completion monitoring.

Rule 5 Sustainable Design

Developments should respond to the sustainability requirements at household and neighbourhood scale as set out by the Code for Sustainable Homes(20), building regulations and other statutory requirements, including consideration over resilience to change and potential responses to climate adaptation(21). This would integrate existing standards including BREEAM Eco Homes for retrofit properties with the use of Housing Corporation HQI/ Scheme Development Standards. We know that sustainability is a lot more than energy and differs between scales and locations so where better based models exist already, these can usefully substitute or add to the underlying evidence for issues of energy, waste, water and healthy living.

Rule 6 Long-term Design

Work should be undertaken with an understanding of the long-term management arrangements for the proposals. It is also consistent with the concept of 'patient money'(22) arising out of the lifetime cost consideration on higher returns, reduced void periods and reduced maintenance costs. This is about creating a long-term legacy that benefits from the right sort of upfront capital investment and avoids the multiple cost of bad design(23). This should also be reflected in the understanding issues of flexibility and durability over the life of any development and support for approaches that extend the life and avoid redundancy, including consideration of existing Inclusive and flexible design principles(24) / Lifetime Homes(25) and internal spacing standards.

This set of principles, or charter for standards is a starting point. It sets out what should be the scope of integrated design standards. To add more detail to this will require the different sectors and stages of the construction industry to collaborate and work together.

1. Quoted in; Hurst, Will [2010] 'HCA forced to reveal details of poor housing'. Building Design 3rd December. Download from
3. Position statement of Home and Communities Agency at The scope of standards and evidence of broad consultation base undertaken by the Homes and Communities Agency has been published in; Electoral Reform Services [January 2011] Report for: Proposed Core Housing Design and Sustainability Standards Consultation: Prepared for the Homes and Communities Agency [ERS Research Services, London].
4. p739 in; Milner, Jo and Madigan, Ruth [2004] 'Regulation and Innovation: Rethinking 'Inclusive' Housing Design'. Housing Studies 19[5] pp 727-744.
5. HCA and CABE [April 2009] Affordable Housing Survey: A review of the quality of affordable housing in England [Homes and Communities Agency, London].
6. Housing Commission [November 2010] Housing shortages: what Councils can do. Final report presented to the Department for Communities and Local Government and to the Local Government Group; albeit with explicit support for the growing importance self build and community land trusts.
7. Bramley, Glen and Watkins, David [January 2008] Modelling Future Housing Markets: Final Report for Bridging NewcastleGateshead by School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University and Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
8. Bridging NewcastleGateshead [January 2010] The relative values of design in Walker Riverside [Bridging NewcastleGateshead, Newcastle].
9. CABE [2010] Simpler and better: Housing design in everyone's interest [Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, London].
10. Simmons, Richard [2009] No more toxic assets [Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, London].
11. Similar efforts have been made within the North East to support such arguments and provide the evidence for investment in quality and sustainability. Fairhurst [January 2009] Value in Design: maximising the value of new residential environments [Bridging NewacstleGateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne]. This can be downloaded from Colin Buchanan and Llewelyn Davies Yeang [2008] Capturing the impacts of quality of place investments. Final report for regional development agency One North East. Llewelyn Davies Yeang [2007] Shaping the Norths Cities for Growth: An Agenda for the Next Decade. Final report for The Northern Way. Report and supporting case studies can be downloaded from Tribal Urban Studio, ARUP and CFURS [May 2009] The Northern Way: Residential futures [The Northern Way, Newcastle].
12. Congress for the New Urbanism and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [2000] Principles for Inner City Neighbourhood Design: Hope VI and the New Urbanism [Congress for the new Urbanism, San Francisco]. Available for download from
13. The idea set out in; Berube, A [2005] Mixed Communities in England: A US Perspective On Evidence and Policy Prospects [Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York]; with the results of the demonstration projects have been published in; Communities and Local Government [March 2009] Evaluation of the Mixed Communities Initiative Demonstration Projects: Initial Report: Baseline and Early Process Issues [Communities and Local Government, London].
14. Tees Valley Unlimited [2011] 'Design, Heritage and Sustainability in Tees Valley - A guide for future housing' [Tees Valley Unlimited, Middlesbrough].
15. CABE [2005] What it's like to live there: the views of residents on the design of new housing [Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, London].
16. Recent sector review and collation of advice can be found in; HM Government [November 2010] Low Carbon Construction: Innovation and Growth Team Final Report [Department of Business, Innovation and Skills; London]. Download from
17. Honour, J [October 2010] Sustainable housing refurbishment: An update on current guidance and sources of information [Building Research Establishment, Watford].
18. Annex B of; Communities and Local Government [June 2010] Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) Housing [TSO, Norwich].
19. Green Investment Bank Commission [June 2010] Unlocking investment to deliver Britain's low carbon future: Report by the Green Investment Bank Commission [Green Investment Bank Commission, London].
20. Department for Communities and Local Government [December 2006] Code for Sustainable Homes: a step change in sustainable home building practice [DCLG, London].
21. Gething, Bill [2010] Design for future climate: Opportunities for adaptation in the built environment [Technology Strategy Board, Swindon]; and Shaw, R; Colley, M and Connell, R [2007] Climate Change Adaptation by Design: A Guide for Sustainable Communities [Town and Country Planning Association, London].
22. p118 in Roger Evan Associates [2007] Delivering Quality Places: Urban Design Compendium 2 [English Partnership & Housing Corporation, London].
23. CABE [2006] The cost of bad design [Commission for Architecture and th Built Environment, London].
24. Adapted from; Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment [2006] The principles of inclusive design: They include you [CABE, London].
25. Initially promoted in; Lifetime Homes Group [1993] Lifetime Homes [Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York]; and Carrol, C., Cowans, J and Darton, D [1999] Meeting Part M and Designing Lifetime Homes [Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York].

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


The Forty Part Motet
[A reworking of “Spem in Alium” by Thomas Tallis 1573]
fourty Voices, fourty Speakers and Castle Keep, 2001
Janet Cardiff [b1957]

[1] Berwick, Carley [2006] “Forty Harmonius Voices Drown Out Your Woes: Cardiff at MoMa”.


Queen Victoria
bronze and pink granite, 1903
Alfred Gilbert [1854-1934]

Twenty one foot high sculpture comprising base, figure and canopy adjacent to St Nicholas’ Cathedral in St Nicholas Square. The neo-baroque canopy is an attempt to reflect the canopy of the adjacent cathedral lantern. Erected as a gift by Sir William Haswell Stephenson, Mayor of the City of Newcastle

[1] Most famous for ‘Eros’, Piccadilly Circus London [1886-1907] his imaginative and dreamlike work has been liken to that of Gilbert and George; by Cumming, Laura [2011] “Modern British Sculpture”. The Observer Review, 23rd January; forming part of the 2011 Exhibition of Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy, London being shown alongside work by Henry Moore and Damien Hurst.
[2] p28 Ayris, Ian; Jubb, Peter; Palmer, Steve and Usherwood, Paul [1996] A Guide to the Public Monuments & Sculpture of Tyne and Wear [Specialist Conservation Team, Development Department, Newcastle upon Tyne City Council].


Cardinal George ‘Basil’ Hume
Bronze [2002]
Nigel Boonham [b1953]

A 7m high figure located within a memorial garden
[1], Neville Street, outside of St Mary’s Cathedral. It was unveiled in May 2002 by Her Majesty The Queen in the year of the Golden Jubilee.
[1] The artist’s own writing on the memorial garden and the statue can be read at

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Expletives ... art for the way we love today. A rather different approach to the visualisation of sound with painting of soundwaves of the artist own expletives.
Reference: Pali, O'Ar [2011] "Sworn testament". Wallpaper* January p61.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Do it yourself

Quite a random link to where some of us and some of our projects have appeared in the ecohome section. Seems that demonstration work can get you noticed sometimes.