House Builders and Urban Design

Richard Hayward, Ivor Samuels, Louise Thomas

Comparing House Builders’ approaches to Urban Design - a pilot study to understand its role and value to the industry

October 2015

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The first decade of the new millennium saw a relative boom for UK volume house builders, although primarily in turnover rather than in volume of output. This was temporarily dramatically reduced in terms of both turnover and output by the crash of 2008.

A combination of government interventions during the period of Labour Government prior to the economic crash, together with more choice generated by developers competing in similar prime locations, arguably resulted in a concern by house builders to focus more on the marketable aspects of the quality of their offer in areas of relative affluence, rather than simply competing on the basis of dwelling mix and price.

This study for the Urban Design Group has used a limited series of structured interviews to explore the approaches and attitudes of house builders to urban design as an identifiable component of their product development.

The six house builders who agreed to take part in the study put forward senior representatives for interview. In most cases at least two respondents from each organisation were directly involved in the discussions. The organisational sample included two small to medium developers, and four large or very large national firms. Half were quoted companies and half privately owned.

The accounts of the interviews were returned to the interviewees to be agreed in terms of accuracy. The six responses were then analysed to create a summary of key common areas of concern or contention across the sample. From these a series of statements or propositions were formed, which was sent to the interviewees, but also to eight further house builders. This anonymous ‘Delphi’ exercise enabled the research team to compare the views of one expert group by reference to a further group of their expert peers.

This exercise demonstrated a significant level of unanimity of views across the key summarised areas of concern arising from the in-depth interviews, but also some lesser areas of disagreement, all of which are discussed in the body of the report.

The key areas of concern which are relevant to the delivery of better urban design outcomes in the realisation of new housing developments, include the:

  • comparative difficulties experienced by smaller developers;
  • resources available to local government and the availability of urban design related skills in the public sector to respond effectively to development pressures;
  • need for a review of all aspects of design guidance and potential industry norms;
  • need for more extensive mapping of appropriate morphological and typological design precedents, both past and contemporary;
  • relevance of urban design to home buyer satisfaction;
  • challenges and rewards of community engagement for developers and local government.

The study concludes by proposing a number of actions that the Urban Design Group could consider to enhance informed and, wherever possible, leading-edge approaches to multi-disciplinary and multi-agency urban design for house building.

Professor Richard Hayward
Ivor Samuels
Louise Thomas

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