The need is great - so why can't we build good quality housing in the UK? Hanham Hall shows the way

A very clear piece from John Harris in the Guardian on the UK's housing crisis. An excerpt:

Travel around the country, look at the housing developments that increasingly ring our towns and cities, and one big question ought to spring to mind: do any of them reflect the best design, the changing way we live, or how environmental thinking ought to be transforming architecture? Most new houses are seemingly built according to the same templates, are frequently sold at stupidly high prices, and are too often full of snags and faults.

Ordinarily, they will be exercises in faux-Georgian kitsch, built according to the architectural prejudices introduced to the culture by that dilettantish ignoramus Prince Charles, and clustered in developments named to evoke some lost, misty England of solid cottages and children playing hopscotch on the cobbles: Knights’ Rise, Saxon Fields, Monarchs Keep.

The rooms in their houses are likely to be cramped: Britain is reckoned to have the smallest new-build homes in Europe, partly because there are no mandatory national space standards. And too many of these places lack the shared spaces and amenities that might give them some small sense of community: meeting halls, sizeable play areas, any space for businesses beyond a single small supermarket.

What is going on here? Since 1995, the total value of UK land has increased more than fivefold. According to the Valuation Office, whereas the average price of agricultural land in England is £21,000 per hectare, the equivalent with planning permission for housing now comes in at a cool £6m. Impossible land prices cut out developers beyond the tiny handful of giants who dominate the market.

The sums they have paid for their plots have consequences not just for house prices, but basic standards: developers too often try to make their profits by building houses as cheaply as possible, and squeezing the share given over to “affordable” homes.

At the end of the piece, Harris points to an alternative model - that pioneered by the Hanham Hall development near Bristol (picture above):

Designed by the award-winning architect Simon Bayliss according to stringent requirements, its homes – split between all types of tenure – are brazenly modern, but thanks to their human scale and inspired use of wood, they feel homely and familiar. Their interiors are intended to be flexible so as to accommodate the needs of families as they change and grow. There are allotments, greenhouses, a spacious park and even beehives. The people I talked to there spoke warmly about “a holiday villa-type environment”, an enduring sense of community spirit, and one unlikely aspect of the development’s story: the fact that it was built by the ubiquitous developer Barratt.

It was a cold, grey day, but it was obvious what all this represented: a small shaft of sunlight illuminating not just how badly things have gone wrong but the fact that, with a reasonable amount of effort and intelligence, one of our most vivid national failures could eventually be put right.

Full article here. Hanham Hall is featured in the latest season of Bristol's Architecture Centre (see PDF of coming events, and the website here).