Jump to content
House Price Crash Forum

Saving For a Space Ship

  • Posts

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Posts posted by Saving For a Space Ship

  1. Why Britain's newbuilds are so ugly




    A new housing estate is being built outside your town. What do you hope it looks like? Britain’s housing stock includes everything from stone cottages to the pair of new skyscrapers in Nine Elms, south London, connected to one another by a swimming pool “bridge” suspended 115ft in the air. Elsewhere we have neo-classical Georgian townhouses, arts and crafts-influenced semis, Victorian terraces, brutalist tower blocks, the boxy brick houses of modern suburban developments and much else. So which would you choose to drive past every day? Which would you choose to live in?

    The Government has an inkling. “Poll after poll suggests we prefer the homes built before planning really began with the 1947 Planning Act, not those that came after,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said in a July speech to the Policy Exchange think tank. Weeks later, Nicholas Boys Smith, a senior adviser to Jenrick, told a conference that nobody should condemn the Not In My Back Yard brigade for their “emotional” response to homes being built on their doorsteps, saying: “If we can understand better what concerns Nimbys and to some degree work with them, we can create better, more lovable and more sustainable and greener places.” 

    In July Jenrick and Boys Smith unveiled the new National Model Design Code and a revised National Planning Policy Framework while also launching the Office for Place within the Ministry of Housing to help local authorities across England create design codes that will give residents a say in the design of new developments in their areas. These three elements are intended to enable the construction of “beautiful, high-quality homes” built in keeping with local conventions, whether that be the red brick of northern towns or the masonry of the south. 

    The Government has committed to delivering 300,000 homes a year across England by the mid 2020s and what Jenrick and co seem to be trying to do with this latest move is alleviate the housing crisis without wreaking aesthetic destruction on our towns, cities and countryside. But it raises many questions: why did housing get so ugly? How do we define beauty? Will the new rules lead to naff pastiche, glorious neo-traditionalism, or just a continuation of the status quo? Was Prince Charles right when, back in 1984, he castigated modern architecture and called for a return to traditional building styles?

    “The Government correctly believes that the ugliness of new development is one major reason why people oppose it,” says Dr Samuel Hughes, a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and an academic philosopher working as a research fellow at the University of Oxford. He was research assistant to the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission chaired by Boys Smith and the late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton – whose report, published in January 2020, provided many of the ideas in the strategy recently unveiled by Jenrick.

    Hughes, 29, is giving me an architectural tour of Muswell Hill in north London. We start at St James’s church. Opposite is Muswell Hill Broadway, whose sweep of four-storey Edwardian buildings is rudely interrupted by an ugly, cuboid block of flats, dating perhaps from the 1960s, that looms above a Sainsbury’s. This “monster”, as Hughes jocularly puts it, sits where a handsome music hall once stood.

    “That would not happen now,” says Hughes, pointing out that today’s planning rules are more protective of aged finery. But the most important change since the construction of the Edwardian buildings, he says, is that the road is now filled with cars. “In 1905, you had a little bit of wheeled transport coming through, going at 5mph, no faster than the pedestrians. They didn’t have road crossings because they didn’t need them. So this would all have been a space into which we naturally would have walked.”

    Today the road is clogged by traffic whose noise is loud enough to impair our conversation. “It’s not exactly a nice place to be and that’s because of the constant traffic.”

    On a quieter road, with terraces of Victorian houses on each side, Hughes explains the difficulties the car poses to neighbourhood design. A couple who buy a house in a new development will often have a car each. That’s two parking spaces. They might want space for a guest (three spaces) and they might end up with teenagers with cars of their own (four or more). “It starts to force the houses apart and to create these more Tarmac-y spaces that we’re familiar with.” Thus bustling streets become roads, houses become more atomised, house prices go up as a result of the extra land requirements, and a walk to the shops becomes a drive.

    Hughes, pictured, was research assistant to the late Roger Scruton CREDIT: Heathcliff O'Malley

    We will be dependent on cars for the foreseeable future but there are measures we might take to reduce their influence. A small start that Hughes suggests is studding the road edges with trees: “You’d end up with a visually narrower carriageway and really strengthen the sense that this is a space for pedestrians.”

    On an Edwardian residential street, Hughes points out gables featuring pastoral mouldings and detailing done in a mock-18th-century style, “downstream from the Queen Anne style, aiming at a slightly idealised version of England’s past”. At the time of these houses’ construction, he says, the snobs of the day would have looked down on them. But although the builders were playing to putatively unsophisticated tastes, they “created something that’s beautiful and has stood the test of time”. 

    Today’s housebuilders are no more villainous or stupid or greedy than those of the past, Hughes insists; the problem is simply “a defective development control system that means what they’re incentivised to do is build something people don’t particularly welcome”.

    Hughes gives the impression of being a young fogey without evincing the views of one. Among his favourite sights on our 90-minute tour is a recently completed development in a contemporary style featuring two uneven rows of grey-brick terraced houses separated by a paved and almost car-less street, which he says create “a pleasing environment, almost like a medieval town”.

    Where are the cars? “There are no undercrofts in Heaven,” Hughes says of what turns out to be underground car parking, “but this development, on the whole, makes me optimistic.”

    Later, a block of flats, with hedges shielding it from the road, catches his eye. “It’s a good, ordinary, interwar mansion block. There is very little here that should not be easily reproducible: an attractive facing brick; a straightforward façade pattern; standard sash windows. [It has] no rare materials, no exquisite craftsmanship and no inspired design – and that’s the point: it’s a good vernacular; a good normal.”

    Hughes standing before a mansion block in Muswell Hill CREDIT: Heathcliff O'Malley

    Hughes isn’t rooting for the revival of any particular style. “It’s about empowering local people,” he says, “but I suspect we won’t see a wave of brutalism sweeping the country.”

    I imagine he is right. The extent of the difference is sometimes exaggerated, but the public does tend to have more traditional taste than the architects behind some of the more outré manifestations of modernist and postmodernist building designs. Hughes cites the much-loved Sydney Opera House as a counterexample, but refers to research that shows the longer students study architecture, the more at odds they become with public rankings of beautiful buildings.

    This gulf between professional and public is probably true of most art forms, I venture. Hughes agrees. “Atonal classical music is greatly respected by highly-trained people, but almost nobody listens to it. There is a near-total lack of interest from ordinary people.” The difference is that you can generally make it down the street without being subjected to music you dislike.  

    On the one hand, pleasing architecture can reinforce local character and win round any Nimbys: an example of a third-party benefit, or “positive externalities”, to use the lingo. On the other, “negative externalities” can do exactly the opposite. So will increased public involvement as a result of the new regulations be enough to dispel Nimbyism? 

    Hughes doesn’t think so, but he hopes it will contribute and observes that beauty comes with sustainability. “If people don’t tear it down, they’re spared the enormous carbon cost of constructing a new building.”

    A thatched newbuild, by Spitfire Homes, exemplifies back-to-the-future design CREDIT: Mark Edwards Photography

    Over the course of our walk, Hughes has given me an education in edifice, finding delight in almost every building he sees. Some element of the art of beautifying our neighbourhoods, I realise, is observing what beauty is already there. In that spirit, it is worth examining why those boxy brick detached houses so commonly found in new developments look the way they do. They seem exactly the kind of generic construction that the new rules are designed to counter, but they sell by the hundreds of thousands every year. 

    According to Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the Home Builders Federation, the trade body for private-sector developers in England and Wales, these house shapes are a product of the regulations that govern the inside of the house, “like mobility standards, like internal space standards”. 

    As for the generic look of the exterior, while it is easier and cheaper to create than a Georgian or Victorian style, it also seems to be what people want. “If you ask kids to draw a house, they’ll draw the Play School house, with a door in the middle, windows each side, and a pitched roof,” says Whitaker. “Lots and lots of people have that concept; that this is what a house looks like. They don’t think of Marmalade Lane.”

    Marmalade Lane, whose residents Hester Wells and Dave Barker are pictured with their children Ursula and Arthur, is car-free 

    Marmalade Lane, a modern development in Cambridge complete with a car-free lane and facilities shared between residents, has drawn praise for its designers Mole Architects. Among its admirers is Roland Karthaus, director of Matter Architecture and a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ expert advisory group for planning, who approves of its shared spaces, intergenerational mix and “reasonably contemporary interpretation of traditional domestic architecture”. 

    Karthaus stresses that the design of new developments should not just be about the houses themselves. “What we need are well-designed places,” he says. Putting cars first “is a first-order mistake”. What is needed, he argues, are coherent neighbourhoods. “It’s all of the houses together; the facilities that are there; the scale and quantity of the services that are provided; the transport – all of those things together, at the scale that you experience it. What does it actually feel like to walk out your front door and be able to walk to the corner shop and bump into somebody on the way and sit in a park?”

    Beauty, Karthaus suggests, might have more to do with how something works than its skin-deep aesthetics. He praises the Georgians, not for any particular visual convention of their era –   they also built bad buildings that have not been preserved – but because they invested long-term interest in places and ensured that local architecture was harmonious. “They invented the leaseholder system and a particular form of design code,” Karthaus says. “That’s a much more important thing to understand than simple aesthetics.”

    Lansdown Crescent, Bath, is a Georgian housing development that has set us a high standard. Rachael Hushon, a local, is pictured in front of it 

    Long-term landowner interest doesn’t come much longer-term than the Duchy of Cornwall. Poundbury (see below), a Dorchester-adjacent town extension whose architecture ranges from Georgian to neo-classical and whose layout is designed for pedestrians’ ease, is built on Duchy land and owes its existence at least in part to Prince Charles. It has been maligned since its 1993 launch as being reactionary, but one of its leading architects, Ben Pentreath, tells me its success is a vindication of the prince’s views, which “have been proved visionary”.

    Referring to his Tornagrain project near Inverness, in which elegant whitewashed homes line steep streets with views of surrounding hills, Pentreath advocates design led by landscape. He would also like to see huge investment in the role of local authority planners, funded by increasing planning costs. 

    Pentreath suggests introducing a simple national pattern book with which to influence the design teams of the five major housebuilders whose small teams of designers – which he says amount to a total of 20 or 30 people – decide the look of nearly all new homes in Britain. “Whenever I’ve met some of them, I’ve found them to be nice, well-meaning people, who unfortunately don’t quite always know how to really proportion a window or design a well-made simple door surround.”

    He applauds the sense of purpose spurred by the new rules, but notes: “I do worry they will join a huge pile of beautifully written documents and legislation that have been produced since at least the 1920s by very well-meaning architects and politicians who want to make changes.

    “Somehow I fear the world as it is will carry on doing what it does.”




    A global crisis is brewing for construction. Declining labour market resiliency across many developed economies has been showing itself for years but geopolitical trends and the pandemic have now laid bare how bad things really are
    DON HORTON, founder of America’s largest housebuilder, never thought he would have to turn away business in Texas. Until recently he could not build homes in the state fast enough. Now his firm is restricting sales as industry-wide shortages of labour and building materials such as timber slow construction and inflate costs.
    The combination of these constraints and surging demand for housing has led to staggering rises in house prices. According to figures published on August 31st the Case-Shiller national house-price index was 18.6% higher in June than a year earlier—the third record-breaking rise in as many months (see chart). But although the shortages of materials are expected to ease next year, skilled labour will be harder to find.
    As covid-19 spread and countries locked down, the construction workforce took a big hit. In America it shrank by nearly 15% in 2020, wiping out four years of job gains.
    But it has yet to recover fully, even as demand for housing has been turbo-charged by low interest rates and enthusiasm for bigger homes. Around 88% of American contractors say they are struggling to find workers, leaving nearly 300,000 roles vacant. Having decelerated in 2020, wage growth is now picking up.
    Britain has the most vacancies in two decades, with two-thirds of construction firms finding it difficult to hire bricklayers and carpenters. Half of all French construction firms report facing difficulties with recruitment, making it the country’s worst-affected sector, and a fifth of German building and civil-engineering companies say they lack skilled workers.

    The industry’s hiring struggles in part mirror the wider labour shortages affecting much of the rich world. As in other sectors, a fear of the virus and an ability to fall back on benefits and savings might explain why the unemployed have been slow to return to work. Travel restrictions across national and provincial borders to curb the pandemic have hit the construction sector, which relies heavily on migrants, especially hard. (That has been starkest in China and India, where migrants account for four-fifths and one-third of construction workers, respectively.)

    Long-standing factors are also contributing to the construction labour shortages. Homebuilders have struggled to maintain a consistent labour force since the global financial crisis of 2007-09.

    That in part reflects deeper changes to immigration laws, which have stemmed a once-steady stream of labour. Inflows of foreign workers into America, for instance, have been in decline since the introduction of anti-immigration policies by President Donald Trump.

    Just over 44,000 foreign-born workers entered the construction industry in 2017, a sharp drop compared with nearer 70,000 in the previous year. Similarly, the Office for National Statistics reckons that Britain has lost 42% of its European construction workers since its vote to leave the European Union, which signalled an end to the free movement of migrants from the EU into the country.

    Skills shortages are also compounded by an ageing workforce. Around 41% of construction workers in America are expected to retire within the next decade. 

    One in five British workers is over the age of 55. Recruiters seeking talent, meanwhile, find slim pickings. High-school graduates of all income backgrounds avoid construction jobs, perceiving them to be dirty, dangerous and difficult. Less than one in ten young people in Britain would consider a career in construction, shunning even white-collar jobs in areas such as engineering, quantity surveying and town planning.


    Automation might have been one way to avert shortages of workers. But the industry has been slow to embrace it. Around half of construction businesses use robots, compared with 84% of automotive firms and 79% of manufacturing companies.

    Meanwhile, the shortages seem set only to intensify. Demand for workers looks likely to rise further, as governments promise both to build more houses and to help prepare the existing stock for a changing climate. Britain already requires 217,000 extra workers by 2025 to meet the government’s target of 300,000 new homes per year.

    Even more labour will be needed to retrofit 29m existing homes to meet net-zero carbon targets by 2050. Governments’ plans to spend on infrastructure in America and Europe could suck in workers and leave fewer to build houses. Job vacancies, construction delays, bosses’ headaches—all may go through the roof.

  3. European banks storing €20bn a year in tax havens Barclays and HSBC among banks booking money equivalent to 14% of annual profits in offshore entities  


    Outrageous, but nothing is suprising regarding the banks anymore, particuallry the 39% interest rates on overdrafts in a time of national crisis


    Chris Hedges | How Bankers ROBBED and ENSLAVED America  




    NYC extends eviction ban until Jan 15 2022, but evictions go ahead in disaster struck other parts of USA ....

    Hurricane Ida aftermath merges with evictions, creating ‘astronomical impact’ on housing crisis



    Renters in New York will have protection from evictions until at least Jan. 15, 2022, after New York state lawmakers voted to extend an eviction moratorium. ... New York puts the new eviction protections in place shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration's temporary eviction ban on Aug. 26.4 days ago


  5. Furlough end unlikely to resolve driver and care staff shortage, says thinktank



    Shortage of open shops ? 

    Almost 50 shops a day disappear from High Streets


  6.  For those not familiar with Mark Farmer ... Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model

    There is still (just about) time to modernise rather than die


    Five years ago, my wake-up call to the industry was considered dramatic, but I fear I was not being bold enough. The industry’s underlying weaknesses are now more exposed than ever, says Mark Farmer

  7. I posted on hpc thread here first , but thought it deserved its own thread....


    Canada tax agency reveals secret study linking home prices to millionaire migration, five years after freedom-of-information request

    The 1996 study found rich migrants made more than 90 per cent of luxury purchases in two Vancouver municipalities while declaring refugee-level incomes

    A freedom-of-information expert said the study could have swayed the city’s notoriously unaffordable housing market, and delaying its release was a ‘tragedy’



  8. Canada tax agency reveals secret study linking home prices to millionaire migration, five years after freedom-of-information request The 1996 study found rich migrants made more than 90 per cent of luxury purchases in two Vancouver municipalities while declaring refugee-level incomes

    A freedom-of-information expert said the study could have swayed the city’s notoriously unaffordable housing market, and delaying its release was a ‘tragedy’




  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.