Can ‘Common Aspirations’ ensure developers stick to the architect’s plan?
Imagine designing for a developer that is legally obliged to build to the highest quality. They must deliver the best possible project, consistent with planning permission.
Sticking to the specification is a contractual requirement. Cheaper alternatives may not be substituted for the stipulated materials. There is a detailed design code that must be adhered to. A pre-emptive wording discourages attempts to push alterations past planners via Section 73 applications.
This might all sound too good to be true. But contractual agreements such as these can be drawn up and have been used in the construction of large housing developments.
These ‘Common Aspiration’ contracts have been used by socially responsible landowners that have a long-term interest in what is built on their land. They can embed any principles concerning planning, community and sustainability that a landowner wishes to see applied.
ADAM Architecture has been using them at Tregunnel Hill, a housing development on the edge of Newquay. It has provided a testing ground of sorts for a major 4,000-home extension to Newquay named Nansledan, which will be built over the next 40 years.
"Compliance with design codes by developers or house builders only has to be 'reasonable' in planning terms," points out ADAM director Hugh Petter. "Common Aspiration agreements, on the other hand, can have aesthetic and social ambitions and be can be much more insistent."
What this means is that Common Aspiration agreements do not have to give developers or contractors the wiggle room that planning agreements do and, crucially, they are enforceable.
At Tregunnel and Nansledan, parcels of land are sold to house builders. But with the Common Aspiration agreements between landowner and house builder in place, the landowner does not have to sign off any agreement that has not been properly adhered to, preventing the house builder from selling the houses on until they are satisfied.
Common Aspiration contracts can continue to have an effect even after properties have been sold, as covenants can be made to limit what alterations the new and subsequent home owners can make.
For instance, the building code at Tregunnel calls for specific parts and materials – such as roofing slates, granite for curbs and cobbles, rustic stone and cut slate for street signage and sills – to come from named sources in Cornwall. Specifications require windows to be wood or metal rather than uPVC.
The landowner in this particular case is the Duchy of Cornwall. As stakeholders go, the Duchy clearly has significantly more clout in being able to put Common Aspiration contracts into practice.
However, these principles have much wider potential applications and they certainly need not be used exclusively for Poundbury-inspired historical design.
Petter says his practice is involved in 30-40,000 homes at various stages of planning where Common Aspiration agreements could be considered, including two major developments by pension funds.
He has seen a rising interest among major landowners in the long-term legacy of development on their land. But perhaps the most convincing aspect of such agreements is that, by enforcing consistent design, promoting sustainability and embedding a social ethos, they add to property values.
Even the least socially minded of developers would be interested in the sales figures at Tregunnel Hill. Over the last three years it has commanded a consistent premium of 10-20% compared to a contemporaneous nearby development by a plc house builder. That is a demonstrable margin of return for creating a sense of place that meets everyone’s aspirations.
Thanks to Hugh Petter, Director, ADAM Architecture.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas
RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Places, planning and communities.
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Posted on 15 November 2018.