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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Moving into the mediocre
Builder
Most new homes are 'not nice'
Too many people have to settle for "mediocre" properties when they buy new build homes, says a new report. So what's the problem and what are the best and worst developments?

A lack of design flair and the prominence given to car parking are among the things to blame for the uninspiring quality of newly-built houses, says the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).

An audit done by the organisation found just 17% of the 1,000 recently constructed developments it looked at in London, the South East and the East of England were judged to be very good or good, with 61% considered average and 22% poor.

Too much importance is given to parking and roads, while local materials that can help create a sense of place and character are rarely used, it says.

Creativity and design quality are also stifled by the conflicts which arise between developers and planning departments, with developers "following the path of least resistance."

CABE chief executive Richard Simmons said most new build houses "were not very nice places to be".

But along with the bad, there are some good examples out there. The following are Cabe's examples of who got it wrong and who got it right.

HARRISONS WHARF, PURFLEET, ESSEX (POOR)

A lack of imagination, no design brief and the dominance of car parking are all to blame for the bad design of Harrisons Wharf. The scheme, which consists of 103 flats overlooking the River Thames in Purfleet, was always going to be a difficult project for developers Bellway Homes.

Harrisons Wharf
Harrisons Wharf: no imagination
When plans were first drawn up the site was operating as an aggregates yard, was surrounded by other industrial units and faced onto a semi-derelict riverside.

But a lack of flair in the design has resulted in riverside development that does not have direct pedestrian access to the actual river.

A design brief was not produced for this site due to limited resources, this resulted in an absence of clear guidance from the local authority and limited amount of early communication with the developer. Remedial action has now had to be taken to improve the development's connection with the surrounding area.

THE ASPECT, ENFIELD, LONDON (AVERAGE)

The scourge of the school run is a major factor in the disappointing design of The Aspect, which is made up of 84 units. Access to a local school was an important influencing factor in the scheme's design for the local council.

The Aspect
The Aspect: trouble with traffic
A "turnaround" area was built to allow parents to drop off their children nearby, resulting in the construction of a large roundabout and the extensive use of bollards - both of which the developer, St James, did not want.

But despite best-laid plans people still drive right up to the school and the developer has now had to introduce gates to private parking areas next to the entrance to prevent them being used by parents.

The result has been an over-dominance of roads and the lack of identity or sense of place.

BOLNORE VILLAGE, HAYWARDS HEATH, SUSSEX (AVERAGE)

The poor design and finish of the development and the priority given to car parking are to blame for the failings of Bolnore Village.

Details such as overlapping pavements all bring down the overall quality of the scheme, which has 1,000 units.

Bolnore Village
Bolnore Village: Pavements overlapping
The scheme involved a number of developers and in their view some of its shortfalls, particularly parking problems, are due to regulations and differing objectives.

A more flexible approach to the design and highways regulations could have resulted in a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

NEW RIVER HEAD, ISLINGTON, LONDON (VERY GOOD)

Clear principles and good use of existing buildings have made the New River Head development a real success. Comprising 77 units, it is located on the site of the former Thames Water Hydra Building and Pumping Station (which is still in use).

New River Head
New River Head: integrated
The development uses existing assets well, successfully integrating older buildings with the modern, new development. This approach creates subtle, local landmark buildings.

Good communication between all the agencies involved, along with a clear and consistent approach to what was needed from Islington Council, helped the project become such a success.

The low number of parking spaces also meant the development wasn't dominated by cars and allowed for public space which was more inviting to pedestrian and cycle users. Site developer St James says reducing parking provision has not deterred purchasers.

WILLOW COURT, CHELMSFORD, ESSEX (VERY GOOD)

Good communication and an openness to new ideas helped make Willow Court the design success that it is.

This Bellway Homes scheme consists of 21 three and four-bedroom detached, semi-detached and terraced houses, with two areas of open space.

Willow Court
Willow Court: designed-led scheme

A previous application by a different developer was refused at appeal on design grounds, in part because the development did not front on to a local park.

Neither did Bellway Homes' initial proposals but it was open to the council's suggestion and a revised layout was drawn up.

Chelmsford is a "Beacon Council" for urban design and says good schemes should be design-led, not standards led. If the scheme works it is not unduly worried about conforming exactly to density, open space, garden or parking standards.

BEAULIEU PARK, CHELMSFORD, ESSEX (GOOD)

Exceptional architecture and well-connected public open space make Beaulieu Park stand out from other housing developments.

The scheme consists of 102 units and was built by a number of developers.

Beaulieu Park
Beaulieu Park: exceptional architecture
In the main it comprises short terraces centred around a public open space which features a mature oak tree, with detached units at the "rural" edges of the scheme.

Provision for cars did not dominate the plans, with open spaces connected where possible to existing bus routes.

The scheme adopts a range of architectural styles and contains 20% affordable housing in two terraces, which are indistinguishable from the private housing.




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