The trade-off between design and profit was the subject of a debate at a Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce event last week.
The Construction Voice debate, chaired by former BBC journalist Miranda Birch, focused on “the balancing act that is design v viability in Brighton and Hove and the wider Greater Brighton region”.
The speakers were architect John McLean, from Morgan Carn, chartered town planner Samer Bagaeen, from the Brighton University Planning School, and surveyor and valuer Simon de Whalley, from the District Valuer Services.
They spoke to an audience of about 80 people, including developers, lenders and people in the building sector, at the cricket ground in Eaton Road, Hove.
Samer Bagaeen said: “In housing, the situation we find ourselves in is ridiculous. We are still several decades behind what other Northern European countries have achieved.”
He said that Brighton was one of the most unaffordable places to live in Britain, adding: “By fuelling demand through increased borrowing power while stifling supply, we are exacerbating the problem of affordability.
“Constrained supply is the main problem … Land is not the problem.
“What is the housebuilders model? Is there a real understanding about why housebuilders build or do not build houses?
“A report by the Housing Forum in 2014 noted that landowners are not incentivised to sell, or builders to build, when they can see prices will rise in the future due to shortage.
“Thus when house prices fall, as in recent years, housebuilders rebuild their balance sheets rather than build homes.
“The lack of land supply and the high associated costs of assembling land and making it viable has meant that new build housing is concentrated into the hands of a small number of major housebuilders.
“The top 10 housebuilders now account for 55 per cent of new supply.”
He pointed out the high drop-out rate among those who secured planning permission. He said: “There were 253,000 applications approved for housing last year. The drop-out rate is between 20 per cent and 60 per cent.”
He said that, by comparison, just 137,000 homes were built in 2014.
Dr Bagaeen cited the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).
He said: “Planning should be a visionary, creative and inclusive process, enabling the delivery of high-quality architecture and great places for people to live, work and play.
“More often than not it has become a risk-averse, tick-box exercise focused on development control and achieving targets in granting planning permissions.”
And he referred to a report last year by the Housing Forum which said: “The increasing shortage is further fuelling the price of land and homes.
“Price is not reflective of quality and too many developments are still isolated from their surroundings and have little to do with the needs and aspirations of local people.”
John McLean said that the choice didn’t have to be between design and viability: “Rather than contributing to viability problems … good clever design is the key to unlocking unviable sites and creating buildings and places people love to live, work and play in – and which have longevity.”
He said that not every building should be iconic but added: “Good design resolves problems and makes buildings understandable, durable, energy-efficient and affordable.
“Good architecture has a price but bad architecture, or no architecture, costs more in the long run. We should be mindful of our legacy.
“With good design everyone can win … Rather than contributing to viability problems, good design can be the key to unlocking viability.”
He said that developers could then make their profits – and he added that there was nothing wrong with that because they were the ones taking the risks.
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