With the amount of available social housing declining, average house prices increasing, energy bills rising, and inflation rising, social housing standards continue to decline but not for lack of effort.
A new example to support this claim is the current Social Housing Regulation Bill making its way through the UK Parliament. This bill, prepared by the Department of Housing and Communities Settlement, was drafted to raise social housing standards and give the social housing regulator more power to act.
Another example comes from the Local Government Association (LGA) which recently called on the government to provide councils with the powers and tools to reverse chronic social housing shortages, including giving councils powers to build 100,000 high-quality, climate-friendly social homes. year.
LGA recently welcomed the Building Safety Act 2022 which was passed on 28 June 2022 and seeks to strengthen building safety regulations in the UK, particularly in relation to new buildings.
As a result of the Building Safety Act 2022, architects will face greater regulation as the Building Safety Act introduces authority to the Architect Registration Board (ARB) to monitor the competency of architects. Architects will need to register with the ARB and the ARB will have the power to remove them from the register for misconduct or serious professional incompetence.
With all of the above in mind, it is clear that housing associations and local governments are making efforts to improve social housing standards, and now that architects are subject to higher regulations, we can look at how they can make a difference in social housing.
One way that architects can do this is by designing open play areas that are suitable for children. An article published by The Guardian will support this. It states that families in a social housing development in London have been told that children playing in the building’s hall have breached their tenancy agreements.
The Irish government has introduced legislation that will solve the problem of the lack of children’s play areas in social housing within the UK. Published within the National Ready and Fixed Play and Play Policy in Respect of Social Housing, it states that play spaces for young children must be provided within one minute’s walk of each front door and must be overlooked from residences.
Sustainability within social housing is a hot topic in architecture and construction and has become an essential part of the design process. One way to achieve a more energy efficient building could be to adopt Passivhaus standards.
Passivhaus is a tried and tested solution that provides a range of proven methods for delivering carbon-neutral prefabricated buildings optimized for a carbon-neutral network and enhancing the health and well-being of occupants. Passivhaus buildings provide a high level of occupant comfort by using very little energy for heating and cooling.
Evidence of these standards came in 2019 when they were used on the Goldsmith Street social housing project in Norwich. Comprising 105 social tenancy units, the architects have entered the project to create a sustainable community and have done just that, with Goldsmith Street becoming the first social housing project to win the Stirling Prize, the UK’s premier award for architecture.
While the public sector may have the right intentions, this is not always reflected in practice by the procurement process for a social housing development.
In an effort to minimize cost, many public sector buyers have given responsibility for development projects to contractors and the rise in the use of design-build contracts in procurement exemplifies this. In many cases, the design and build led to the architect replacing the contractor once the building had obtained planning permission, removing the basic design that ensured that the quality detailed in the design process was retained until final development.
This problem can be resolved by ensuring that design quality is protected throughout the procurement process by requiring applicants to commit to retaining project teams throughout the construction process. This also supports the recommendations outlined in the London Plan. It is specific in recognizing the important value of design continuity and offers several ways this can be achieved, for example through the requirement of planning permission, as design references, or through the requirement to retain the architect in a legal agreement.
Ultimately, the character of an area comes from how it integrates buildings, streets, spaces, landscapes, and infrastructure and how people experience them. It’s not just about the buildings or their aesthetics, it’s about how they interact with everything that surrounds them. If well-designed and sustainable, social housing projects will give tenants a sense of pride, helping to create and maintain communities and neighborhoods.