The Good Homes Alliance supports the emergence of new and better housing delivery models that produce more liveable and sustainable homes and neighbourhoods. These models include community-led, custom-build and self-build housing, public sector direct delivery, and a new generation of SME developers building better housing commercially. As well as contributing to housing supply in their own right, such models exemplify and accelerate the raising of standards across the industry.

2019 saw two important milestones in housing: the highest number of new housing completions in England for 30 years and a local authority-developed social housing scheme winning the RIBA Stirling Prize. However, unlike Goldsmith Street, Norwich – an architect-designed, Passivhaus-certified scheme of 100 terraced homes directly developed by a council – around six in ten of the 170,000 completions were built by volume housebuilders (defined as companies delivering over 2,000 dwellings per year). The recent National Housing Audit has revealed poor standards of quality and placemaking to be commonplace in the industry.

Stirling Prize-winning Goldsmith Street, Norwich (Image credit – Tim Crocker)

Described by the Prime Minister as an ‘oligopoly’, the UK housebuilding industry is dominated by a small number of large companies and is characterised by limited competition, low innovation and high barriers to entry. It has evolved in this way in large part because landowners, who control the key input to the development process, are entitled and incentivised to extract the maximum possible surplus, squeezing what is available for the building.

Sir Oliver Letwin’s 2018 independent review of build out also identified a “homogeneity of the and tenures of the homes on offer” on new-build developments, leading to slow absorption – and therefore rates of build out – of new dwellings. That report called for the government to take steps to encourage greater diversity of housing products and the companies and other organisations delivering them.

There is a growing body of schemes that demonstrate what is possible when land control, planning policy, design skills, technical capabilities and financial models align with community ambitions. Examples, alongside Goldsmith Street, include The Malings, Newcastle, Little Kelham, Sheffield, and Marmalade Lane Cohousing, Cambridge.

Marmalade Lane, Cambridge (Image credit - David Butler)
Marmalade Lane, Cambridge (Image credit – David Butler)

The GHA actively supports the diversification of housing delivery to drive innovation, improve choice and encourage the adoption of higher standards across the industry. We do this by:

  • studying and sharing good practice in completed and in-progress developments;
  • providing opportunities for dialogue among industry actors looking to make better homes; and
  • working with partners such as the UK Cohousing Network and National Community Land Trust Network to develop a shared policy agenda and lobby for change.

Our priorities for the future are:

  • renewal of the successful Community Housing Fund to support direct delivery of good homes by and for community-led groups;
  • clarification and reform of public sector ‘best consideration’ rules to ensure that disposals of public sector land and assets take account of social and environmental, as well as financial value;
  • encouraging councils to use Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan policies to promote community-led, custom-build and other innovative approaches;
  • support for the recommendations of the Letwin Review to enable councils to diversify the delivery of housing on large sites; and
  • in the longer term, reform of the 1961 Land Compensation Act to make it easier for councils to intervene in the land market and direct planning gain towards social value, including better design and construction standards.

This Good Homes Alliance Position Paper was authored by Neil Murphy (GHA Board Member and Founding Director, TOWN) and peer-reviewed by the GHA Board.

First published – June 2020.

Position Paper – Alternative Housing Models

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