I have been part of teams bidding to win design competitions to deliver large scale housing developments and have won more than we have lost. Considering that most teams are happy to win 1 out of every 5 or 6 some would say I should be happy with the system but I abhor the system in so many ways.
1 Housebuilders can spend £500,000 on a bid, if they win 1 in 6 bids then that can be £3million in bid costs per win. That £3 million comes off the build cost and usually off the design and landscape / placemaking budget
2 The developer may employ a decent design team to produce a good bid but often the forward thinking design team is not retained for the actual delivery of the project and is replaced by a bog standard team of “yes men” consultants.
3 The government agency English Partnerships (now Homes and Communities) would handle sales of the large old hospital sites /RAF /Army sites and sell sites that would typically produce 500 to 1000 homes to the bidder that ticked the design boxes but more importantly offered the highest bid. I understand the need to get best value for land so as to be able to give money to the NHS / RAF / Army whoever. But by selling to one developer best value for the future residents, the town the development is in, and the nation can’t be achieved. This process allows the developer to act as a monopoly, drip feeding its housing stock to the market, squeezing higher prices from a “starved“ market.
4 Having one developer delivering all the homes can only inhibit choice, serendipity and the lack of competition leads to lower space standards (out of the EU 15 counties the UK’s new housing stock is the second smallest)
So what are the answers
1 Large developments should be subdivided amongst a pool of developers (national, local and possibly international) who have proved their worth on previous sites. This is possible within European Law… the process would need making clear for Local Authority legal departments
2 Each developer should be limited to 100 units per site and there should be a central sales office where 4 or more developers all launch their products at the same time (This is the system in the countries that government agencies aspire to in terms of housing… Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands). Just like in our high streets, our supermarkets, our car industry this would result in less homogenous product and allow the consumer choice forcing the retailer / developer to strive for product differentiation
3 All bids should have design weighted equally or higher than land value… good design can be proved to result in long term value
4 Alternative methods of procurement of road, school, health, transport infrastructure is needed to replace a section 106 system that encourages the short termism of” highest land value” bids.
5 Developer agreements should be implicit in stating that the original design team / or a team of equal quality should be employed throughout the delivery of the project