I have always been into “pensioner chic”, I wear brown slacks, sensible shoes and a occasionally, a cardi. If I wasn’t so modern as to buy all my food shopping online (a pre silvers surfer?) I would leave Tesco pulling one of those bags on wheels with my leeks and cabbage sticking out the top. I ‘m looking forward to being a granddad, and with kids soon to move out of their teenage years it may not be that far off. But for the last decade (since my early 30’s) I’ve had a title that successful businessmen often achieve prior to becoming a pensioner, the title of Chairman. Firstly I was the Chairman of Red or Dead the fashion company I founded, and for the past few years I’ve been the Chairman of Building For Life.
Despite the IPPR’s commission report on Sustainable Development in the South East published this week (Wednesday) which questioned the Barker Review’s analysis and number recommendations for house building, the fact remains that we need to build more homes and that these need to be well-designed homes and neighbourhoods where people will want to live and stay.
The government needs more high density, affordable housing in areas where there is the greatest need. Developers need to make a profit over the long term. And house buyers want stylish, high quality dwellings close to friends, family, work and recreational facilities – all at a price they can afford. This is where Building for Life and the Standard awards can make a difference, to try and reconcile these competing interests.
Building for Life is about upping the design quality of new homes, and proving that it doesn’t have to be an either/or question, quantity and quality really can go hand in hand. We just need to make this the norm rather than the exception. As more and more organisations from across the private and public sectors recognise this and come together, momentum of BFL and other campaigns such as More and Better Homes (www.moreandbetter.org.uk) is growing. But there is still a long way to go.
Building for Life was established in 2001, as a partnership between the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), the House Builders Federation and the Civic Trust working in association with Design for Homes. Its aims have been to.
- Identify successful new housing and explain to the industry and decision makers why they work so well and how we can learn from them
- Identify the barriers to designing quality new homes and campaign to remove them
- Understand better the needs and aspirations of people buying homes so that the design of new housing is more attractive to them.
Chairmen sometimes sit back and act as a figurehead but with something as important to society as homes and with my strong views of the housing industry, I am sure that the last thing that the partners in BFL wanted from me is for me to pose for a few photographs and keep my gob shut.
However with the House Builders Federation (now with a more cuddly moniker The Home Builders Federation) as a partner I could never go as far as I could have in saying how bloody difficult its been, sometimes, to identify housing schemes that warrant the awards and resulting razzamataz that BFL dishes out.
We make awards twice a year and previous winners of BFL Gold Standards have included Countryside Properties’ Abode scheme in New Hall Harlow (where the award ceremony was attended by and the attendees addressed by John Prescott) and Ingress Park where both Tony Blair and John Prescott pitched up. But despite the fact that by producing great, sustainable, liveable and visually attractive schemes that win BFL awards a housebuilder gains serious brownie points when it comes to design competitions for development sites there has still been a disappointingly low number of schemes for BFL award judges to get excited about.
Recently the ODPM have set targets (as Govt depts do) for BFL to make 100 Standard awards over the next five years. This isn’t going to be easy. However with English Partnerships becoming associate members and asking developers to adopt BFL criteria and the Housing Corporation joining the BFL family the developer industry is going to have to take note of what BFL is looking for in housing developments in this country.
These are some of the 20 specific criteria focusing on character, roads and parking, design and construction and environment and community which the BfL judges use to determine who wins: Does the scheme feel like a ‘place,’ rather than just housing? Do public spaces feel safe and do visitors find the layout easy to navigate? Does the scheme exploit existing buildings, landscaping or topography? Does layout promote use of the street for those not in cars? Is there appealing public amenity and is it designed to be durable? Has the scheme made use of advances in construction technology? Has the development any features that reduce its environmental impact? Is there a range of accommodation? And does the development have features to help knit the community together?
Silver BfL Standards are awarded to developments that fulfil 70% of the criteria. A gold accolade requires 80% and must demonstrate the highest standards of architecture and all-round sustainable development.
BFL is not all about scoring points and winning awards.
The Building for Life Standard identifies 20 urban design criteria adopted by the Deputy Prime Minister, in the Sustainable Communities Plan, as the benchmark for the quality of new homes.
Developers should use the Building for Life Standard criteria, listed on the website, as the basis for development briefs to help speed up planning approvals and win local community support.
The criteria can be used to assess the design quality of any housing scheme, of use to developers, local authority officers and members alike. Local authorities should use the criteria to demand high standards and as a ready reckoner for assessing the design quality of schemes.
In November a guide to the criteria will be launched, explaining the reasoning behind each criteria, the policy background and giving examples of where each has been successfully achieved.
The website has a best practice library with information on Silver and Gold Standard winning housing schemes alongside 60 best practice case studies from England and abroad. There are quarterly newsletters with opinions, recommendations and guidance on good practice and process
There is an advice section with information on and links to 24 recommended organisations that can help local authorities and house builders improve their product.
There are conference papers explaining how the best schemes came to be built from the people who built them.
Elected members, developers and residents’ committees should visit and learn from the best practice projects recognised by Building for Life and featured in the on-line library.
Marketing teams should use the Home Buyer’s Guide to give them competitive advantage and to inform their market on what makes a good home. There are reports on home buyers’ attitudes identifies the discrepancies between market, product and good design.
And marketing teams should salivate at the thought of winning an engraved plaque and badge to use in promotional literature not to mention the chance of getting a cheesy photo with a government minister.
So that means that everyone reading this article should stop what they are doing and visit www.buildingforlife.org