Communities secretary hits out at poor housing design

"Brutal, concrete mega-estates" will not create neighbourhoods that work, according to secretary of state for communities and local government Hazel Blears.

Good design will be a key principle informing the work of the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA), which comes into being on 1 December, Blears announced last week.

"People deserve to live in communities that are beautiful, that appeal to the eye, that are designed with imagination and care - not the brutal, concrete mega-estates of the past," she said at regeneration agency English Partnerships' annual meeting on 16 October.

Blears noted that the arguments were aesthetic and economic, and that well-designed places held their value better. "The HCA's responsibility for championing good design is emphatically not an add-on, but will be part of the bread and butter," she added.

But pinning down the costs of bad design will be crucial for the future of housing. Landscape Institute chief executive Alastair McCapra said the development of mass housing must be tempered with considerations of how those homes will meet community and social needs.

"We support what Hazel Blears has said but we want to push it further and look at the wider social benefits of good design," he said.

"The Government should be thinking more broadly than just aesthetics and economics; it needs to be looking at health and sustainability. We need people to think not that it is too expensive to (create good housing), but that it is too expensive not to."

McCapra said the Landscape Institute had identified that follow-up work on the costs of bad design - in relation to issues such as health, crime and the environment - was needed.

The Accordia housing scheme in Cambridge winning the Stirling Prize was encouraging, McCapra added, as it showed that volume housing could be well designed with good landscape elements.

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