Future Homes Commission
The Future Homes Commission has now published
its report into the quality of newly built housing.
They were tasked by the RIBA in September 2011
with conducting an inquiry into the quality of newly
built housing with the aim of understanding how
people live today, what they need and expect from
their homes and whether the design and delivery of new homes is fit for purpose.
Over the past year the Commission – comprised of
Sir John Banham, Dame Mavis McDonald, Roger
Graef OBE and Kate Faulkner – has:
- Sought evidence from a wide range of experts.
The Commission met with 140 experts in
roundtable discussions across the country and
received 42 written responses from organisations.
- Commissioned new research. Filmed
ethnographic case studies observed people inside
their homes; and discussion groups sought
consumers’ views on what they look for and how
they choose a home. The research was published by
the RIBA and Ipsos MORI in The Way We Live Now (PDF).
- Conducted a survey of public opinion on-line and in the RIBA’s Place to Call Home exhibition which was held at their headquarters in Central London. Altogether, 2,295 people completed the survey
- Visited housing sites in Leicester, London, Newport and York.
Building the Homes and Communities Britain Needs makes the following key recommendations:
- A three-fold increase in the number of new homes being built every year - from the current 100,000 to over 300,000
- A new, independently managed £10 billion Local Housing Development Fund, financed by the largest Local Authority pension funds pooling 15% of their assets to invest in new rental and shared ownership housing.
- A greater focus on design in all new homes, ensuring they meet current residents’ needs and making them fit for future generations.
- A more consumer-oriented housing market, with reliable, comprehensive information available to the public.
- A lead role for local government, using their powers and assets now to lead the creation of sustainable communities to meet local housing needs and capable of providing attractive investment opportunities for institutional investors.
The Case for Space: The Size of England's New Homes
In September 2011 the RIBA released The Case for Space - a report with new research providing a snapshot of the size of England's new homes.
Case for Space
Why is space an issue?
Space is an important factor when people are choosing a home, but many feel that newly built homes aren't big enough. Existing research suggests that consumers are right to be worried. A lack of space has been shown to impact on the basic lifestyle needs that many people take for granted, such as having enough space to store possessions or even to entertain friends. In more extreme cases, lack of adequate space for a household has also been shown to have significant impacts on health, educational attainment and family relationships.
Consumers buying or renting newly built homes in the UK are likely to get less space than their European neighbours. In the rest of Western Europe new homes being built are bigger, even in countries with similar population densities to our own.
Using publicly available documents submitted for planning applications, we assessed the internal floor area of privately developed homes on a sample of sites currently being built by England's eight largest volume housebuilders. We compared our findings to the Greater London Authority's space standards to benchmark good practice.
- Based on our sample, the average new home in England is only 92% of the recommended minimum size.
- The average one bedroom home from our sample of 1,159 homes across 41 sites was 46 sqm. This means it is 4m² short of the recommended minimum for a single storey, one bedroom home for two residents, which is 50m². The mode (most common size) was smaller still at 45m².
- In lifestyle terms, 4m² is the equivalent of a single bed, a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool. 3m² is the equivalent of a three seat sofa and a desk and chair.
- The average three bedroom home from our sample of 3,418 homes across 71 sites was 88m². This means it is 8m² short of the recommended minimum for a two storey, three bedroom home for five residents, which is 96m². The mode (most common size) was smaller still at 74m².
- In lifestyle terms, 8m² is the equivalent of a single bedroom and the furniture you'd expect to fit comfortably within it. 7m² is the equivalent of a galley kitchen and a coffee table.
Improving the quality of new homes will be a joint venture for housebuilders, architects, planners and policy makers amongst others. Here are some initial recommendations stemming from our research.
What can the housebuilding industry do?
Improve marketing information: Estate agents and housing providers should display clearly the floor area of homes on all marketing material. They should also show floor plans with furniture and other items illustrated, so that consumers can better understand what space means to them and their lifestyles.
Publish data about the size and quality of new homes: To ensure greater transparency in the marketplace, developers should publish this relevant information relating to the quality of new homes.
Join the Future Homes Commission's conversation: The Future Homes Commission has been set up by the RIBA to find out what consumers want and need, and make recommendations to architects, housing developers and other organisations to help the industry deliver the best homes possible.
What can policy makers do?
Make Energy Performance Certificates mandatory at point of market rather than after contracts have been signed: Energy Performance Certificates need to be available and explained for every home being marketed - not simply requested and provided only after contracts have been signed and people are about to move in.
Work with the house building industry to produce an industry-wide voluntary agreement that housebuilders publish data about the size and quality of new homes. The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Homes and Communities Agency could facilitate this work to ensure data is published on a regular basis, in a way that is both transparent and does not add an unnecessary regulatory burden upon businesses.
What can consumers do?
Be Homewise: Use the RIBA's home buyer and renter guide to help ask the right questions when choosing a home, available at www.behomewise.co.uk.
Take the Nest Test: Find out what the floor area of your home should be according to the London standards, then tell the Commission whether you agree, and what else you think is important at www.behomewise.co.uk.
Improving housing quality
Improving Housing Quality: Unlocking the Market
The RIBA’s 2009 discussion paper Improving Housing Quality (PDF 2.7MB) examines how UK housing policy could be recalibrated to produce better quality and more desirable new homes.
Issues affecting housing quality
• Insufficient competition in the market for new homes.
• Insufficient choice and market freedom for consumers and communities.
• A process of land acquisition and engrained problems within the planning system that lead to land speculation, higher prices and insufficient consideration of design quality.
What the paper argues for
• The house bulding model - a shake-up of the UK house building industry and a move away from a system driven by short-term profit maximisation, towards a more sustainable model which produces high quality homes and creates greater consumer choice
• Local authority leadership - new housing developments to be driven by local authorities and local communities to produce a product that is attractive to consumers and investors in the long-term and maximises the economic benefits of good design.
• Empowering the consumer – better and more transparent system of consumer information, freeing up the market to give individuals and communities opportunities to plan, design and build new homes and neighbourhoods.
Locally driven standards
The research argues that the fallout from recession could lead to a recasting of the housing sector. Local authorities and public sector bodies should be given the confidence and autonomy to make the most of the opportunity this provides and take a lead role in housing development, to drive up standards at a local level and use its existing powers to push through new developments and open up the market to greater competition.
Better information and greater choice for consumers
The research suggests that government could unlock the “hidden market” for high quality design by putting consumers and communities at the heart of the housing delivery process. Greater transparency and better information on the size and standard of homes could provide more informed and involved consumers, who work more closely with their local council to create a vision for their area and a greater say over the design of their homes and neighbourhoods.