Friday, 16 April 2010

Gobbing on...

Or, the weird wonderful and wacky world of 'affordable' housing... especially when it's paid for by er... us....

Upside down house, Poland

Updated 16th May Malcolm has added an excellent rant to expand on the points made  below in today's Herald

Original post:
A quick archibollocks post, sparked by the debate in today's Building Design between 'Leading Scottish Architect' (well, he's usually described thus, apart from when he's described as Award Winning Leading Scottish Architect, or Edinburgh's Leading Architect, so who am I to not do likewise?) Malcolm Fraser, Director of Malcolm Fraser Architects, Geddes Honorary Professorial Fellow at Edinburgh Uni:

(well, OK, that's not Malcolm Fraser but the BD pic, see below, has some of the qualities of Mad Axeman about it so I prefer this one)

and Scottish Government Housing Minister  Alex Neil.


Is Scotland set to repeat the mistakes of Kickstart?

16 April 2010

Yes, says Malcolm Fraser; no, argues housing minister Alex Neil, it’s vital for the nation.

Now the laws of copyright probably say I can't here repeat it all, but it's all available to read online and if you aren't already registered with the BD website, it's quick, easy and free.

However, Malcolm Fraser's part is written in his own inimitable style, so here it is, in full, he can sue me later (and I make it clear that this is NOT THE ARCHIBOLLOCKS PART as I don't want the Wrath of Malcolm to descend) for your enjoyment:

Our banking and housebuilding industries are intertwined, and went down together when the weight of their hubris burst their helium-filled credit bubbles.

Public money bailed out the banks, but the government did not require them to improve or reform, simply begged them to take our money and go back to business as usual. Now it’s doing the same for housebuilding, through Kickstart and, in Scotland, the National Housing Trust.

It’s a bailout, with public money going to the housebuilders to re-start “shovel ready” schemes. Such schemes, of course, will take the two standard forms: diddy-boxes, car-dependent and decorated by “gob-ons” (the industry term for pediments and half-timbering); or urban-lumpen flats with bolt-on G&T cages.

As products they are very poor. But the wee flurries of criticism, of poor design and the sidelining of our design quangos miss the point: yes, Cabe and, in Scotland, A&DS are there to try to make building a bit less rubbish; but, as it’s our public money, why should we tolerate rubbish in the first place?

While I take it that Scotland’s response will be a bit fluffier, with some less-profit bits, the point remains: if government borrows money on behalf of the community it should invest it with the community’s interest put first, not the housebuilders’. This means public homes — council housing — properly commissioned, and designed by our best architects with the full involvement of the communities they are to build for.

Righty, not a lot to argue about there, so far so fine, we all know and wonder at the blocks of shiny tat with tiny balconies thrown up by the acre all over the country and at Leith, and the mass housebuilding schemes of no architectural merit at all which litter every town and village throughout the land.  Housing it may be, architecture it certainly isn't.

As for the Housing Minister, pictured below all thrusting jawed serious sincerity (no, the phrase 'serial killer' didn't even enter my mind)

well, yes, it's the usual politician's waffle, written no doubt on his behalf by some civil servant who can't wait for the weekend's car washing ritual and a round of golf. All part of a cunning plan so you don't  read beyond the first paragraph, but there's some serious bollocks sneaked in part way...

Despite serious financial constraints, the Scottish government is determined to increase the supply of affordable housing at a time when there is a shortage of such homes in many parts of Scotland.

We and the Scottish Futures Trust are working closely with several Scottish Councils to boost construction on mothballed housing sites and deliver around 1,000 new homes through a radical new National Housing Trust (NHT) initiative.

A key priority will be to ensure that homes delivered through the trust are affordable and offer good value for taxpayers’ money. But this initiative is about more than that. We are not in the business of supporting developers financially to build poor quality homes.

Yeah yeah blah. Time for a cuppa. Fine. But wait... read on...

We are discussing with councils what their requirements will be for homes in their area to agree criteria for assessing bids from developers. These criteria are likely to require that all proposed homes meet, at the very least, the 2007 Scottish building regulations to ensure that space and energy efficiency standards are sufficient.

Hang on...

Let's fly that one up the flagpole again...

These criteria are likely to require that all proposed homes meet, at the very least, the 2007 Scottish building regulations to ensure that space and energy efficiency standards are sufficient.

Homes will only be acquired by the initiative once they have been completed to the agreed standards. Also, by having a medium-term interest in sites that they bring in to the NHT, developers will have a strong interest in ensuring homes are well designed as they are taking the majority of the risk if tenants do not want to live in the homes or if there are difficulties in selling them after five to 10 years

So... we are talking here about bailing out developers to carry on building, without any guarantee that the 1,000 'affordable' houses to be built using your money and mine are to meet the minimum regulations? WTF etc?

And as for

developers will have a strong interest in ensuring homes are well designed

Yeah. Right.

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PS Who could disagree with the comment posted? Not me!

So, the buildings are likely to be required to meet Scottish building regulations? Not will be required, only likely? What's the purpose of regulations then, if they aren't mandatory? And as for 'well designed', how about ensuring a few decent architects are employed? You know, skilled people who have some pride in their work, and a proven record of good design, in order that the sort of poor quality housing Malcolm Fraser describes with such eloquence isn't what is on offer? Here's an opportunity to set standards for some exemplary modern homes, yet nothing Alex Neil has written brings any sense of confidence that this isn't simply another bail out with few strings attached.

Wider reading and more from Malcolm on this:

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