Design Council is calling on built environment professionals to radically improve the design of new housing developments, after findings published today show alarmingly high levels of ‘poor’ or ‘mediocre’ housing design in England.  

The new research, A Housing Design Audit for England, looks at more than 140 housing developments built across the country since 2007. The audit – which is funded by UCL through the Place Alliance, the CPRE and the Laidlaw Scholarship Programme – was supported by an advisory group of experts in architecture and the built environment, including Design Council.  

Key findings from the audit include: 

  • Three-quarters of the audited projects were either ‘poor’ or ‘mediocre’ 
  • One in five developments did not meet the advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework, and therefore should have been refused planning permission. 
  • Poorer communities are ten times more likely to be subjected to worse design, even though better design is affordable 
  • Low-scoring housing developments scored particularly badly in terms of their character and sense of place, and their architecture did not respond to the context in which it was located. 

Despite these findings, the report finds that better design can be afforded: the cost factors separating ‘good’ from ‘poor’ design are likely to be a relatively small proportion of development value across all markets. Furthermore, it states that the potential exists for good design everywhere, with a wide distribution of ‘good’ scores across the country rather than concentrated in one particular area.  

The publication sets out a series of comprehensive recommendations for central and local government, and industry professionals to drive up the quality of design. They include: 

  • Housebuilders needing to take a more ethical approach to design to improve local environments that lead to improvements in the health and wellbeing of residents 
  • Local Authorities using proactive design review processes for major or complex development schemes 
  • Greater focus on highways design and the creation of higher quality spaces between buildings  
  • Substandard schemes which do not meet minimum requirements should be refused on design grounds.  

The publication adds weight to Design Council’s longstanding work to champion the importance of design throughout the planning and development process. As well as providing ongoing independent strategic design advice and reviews for local authorities, property developers, infrastructure providers and their consultant teams, in the last year alone Design Council has also: 

  • Launched a free online training course in inclusive environments for built environment professionals and other key stakeholders across the UK  
  • Submitted evidence to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) on ensuring consistently high standards of design nationally, which was subsequently reflected in the BBBBC’s interim report 
  • Developed a visual design manual with Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design to form part of the revised Design Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) supporting the Government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 
  • Run a workshop on maintaining design quality through the procurement process for the BBBBC, and a workshop with built environment stakeholders and champions for West Midlands Combined Authority on the concept of a national housing expo. 

“Design Council has long championed the need to prioritise design throughout the entire planning and development process. A Housing Design Audit for England provides further evidence of why the industry needs to take urgent action to do this. It highlights that, with the right practices, processes and support mechanisms in place, good design can be afforded and achieved. I hope that the Audit’s findings will provide further impetus to those in the industry to seek the support of organisations such as Design Council to help drive up standards in design.”

Sue Morgan, Director of Architecture and Built Environment

To find out more about Design Council's built environment programmes please click here.

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