"Housing 2019: design tops the housebuilding agenda" by Phillip Lyons


Last month, I had the honour of attending and presenting at CIH’s annual Housing conference in Manchester leading the debate on the importance design plays in all forms of housebuilding. As an industry, our starting point for any project, large or small, should not be about bricks and mortar, but about creating sustainable new places where people want to live and can enjoy their surroundings.

This was echoed by both the Prime Minister Theresa May and the Housing Secretary James Brokenshire. When the Housing Secretary announced a new commission championing beautiful buildings as an integral part of the drive to build the homes communities need, it marked a visible shift in the way national government viewed the future of, and its approach to UK housebuilding. The commission, set out a vision as well as practical measures to help new developments meet the demand of communities and ensure residents feel welcomed, was a breakaway from simply stating that more houses need to be built to address the housing crisis.

A design-led scheme whatever the size, should aim to stand the test of time, evolving and maturing into a place that people love. From the outset, a proposed project must answer some fundamental questions: Are we delivering for our customers? And have they effectively influenced the way in which a project is sensitively approached?

At Countryside, we’ve always taken a design-led approach to our developments. This stems from the late Alan Cherry, who founded Countryside and was an original member of The Urban Task Force, which sought to promote social wellbeing and involve neighbourhoods in the urban planning process. As a result, our work is shaped by the belief that we don’t build houses but create communities.

We need to focus on mixed-tenure and mixed-use communities that unlock an area’s potential by delivering new local amenities, community facilities, public spaces and transport infrastructure. We should ensure developments ooze character and style which complement the area, as well as serve the needs of the community.

However, a design-led approach will only be successful if there is close collaboration and strategic partnerships with local residents, community groups, councils, housing associations and other statutory providers. A collaboration will effectively influence the design and ultimately delivery, rather than planning in vacuum and ignoring an area’s socioeconomic factors.

This is why we collaborate with local communities, ensuring that they have a sense of belonging and we gain a granular understanding of an area for any development before we break ground. Creating social value is equally as important as economic value and they go hand in hand in building communities for generations to come.

We are currently half way through the transformation of Acton Gardens - the 52-acre former South Acton Estate in West London. Since starting work in 2011 there are over 1,800 households, 24 community groups, two schools, churches, a community centre and various clubs. We are breaking down the social boundaries that divided the old estate and neighbouring communities through close community engagement and delivering 3,463 new high-quality homes, of which around 50% will be affordable, on a tenure-blind basis across 21 development phases. Not only is Acton Gardens mixed-tenure, it is tenure blind and this has been a winning formula here as we look to bridge social tensions. When we started working together with L&Q, 80% of existing residents wanted to leave, but now 94% want to move into the new homes that are being created.

The housing crisis is not simply about building for today. All too often, a once-new park or community centre can become neglected and underutilised. How do we ensure we are building for the future? We must look to meet the challenges of tomorrow, particularly around energy use, transport infrastructure, advanced data, and health and wellbeing. Collaborators must take a long-term view by implementing a stewardship programme with strong local governance that works for the community and is treasured by generations to come.

In Beaulieu, Chelmsford, Essex, we have shaped all our plans for the long term. A joint venture with L&Q, we set out delivering 3,600 new homes spread across a 604-acre site with a wide range of architectural styles, sizes and layouts to choose from. The vision from the outset was to create a community rich with inspirational architecture, attractive landscapes and useful amenities. Beaulieu has become an exemplary site which draws best practice of design, community engagement and consultation, placemaking and long-term stewardship.

As an industry, we must respect and learn from the past as well as look ahead to the future. We must champion the need for sustainable communities, established through design-led schemes, and provide homes of mixed tenures and price points for everybody. Housebuilding is a people-business – we must keep the customer at the heart of everything we do and so our work must be underpinned by meaningful partnerships and industry-wide innovation thereby creating places where people want to live, work and ultimately love.

Phillip Lyons Blogs
Phillip Lyons, CEO Housebuilding