McCloud cuckoo land? - by Rupert Bates

Date:

Friday 22nd October 2010

I am a huge admirer of Kevin McCloud and the principles behind his new home building business Hab, but reading the latest extracts from his book in The Times Bricks & Mortar today, my heart sank as yet again another prop idol resorted to lazy stereotyping of an entire industry.

First of all many of his principles are nothing new and if Kevin cared to look and speak to some of our more enlightened housebuilders and developers, not to mention their key suppliers, they have been trying for some time to create sustainable communities based on social cohesion and place-making, as well as physical shelter and that quaint virtue of trying to match demand with supply.

The difference is, for fear of fits of giggles on building sites breaking health & safety regulations, a mainstream housebuilder would not dare call his company Hab, as in happiness, architecture and beauty.

So we have had "40 years of gimcrack housing" have we Kevin? Nothing but "social deserts"? Well yes there are some pretty damning examples of housebuilding communities gone bad, very bad, but a lot is done well and a lot of builders care. I have not read Kevin's book, but I trust in the interest of balance and accuracy, he refers to some outstanding schemes out there, created by real housebuilders, existing in the real world.

People are Nimbys Kevin because they are selfish, not because the developer failed to put a community orchard in to boost the biodiversity of the meadow between them.

"No wonder developers have built themselves a bad name. That name is B, B and B, which stands for Bag the planning, Build it out and Bugger off." Oh very droll. Bag the planning? They wish!

McCloud is stuck in the 70s and 80s when he talks about housing estates "devoid of character" and "ring-fenced ghettos." Of course the new home builder is in search of profit (they don't last long otherwise), but to say there is no incentive to build high-quality buildings is crass. The best housebuilding chiefs are more passionate about product than captains of just about any other industry I know.

Does McCloud really believe housebuilders rack 'em and stack 'em, caring not a fig for the people who buy their properties and live in or around them? They are subjected to a planning system that is nothing short of scandalous and a suffocating burden of regulation, much of it contradictory and incomprehensible. And to boot they are the guinea pigs of climate change, expected in under six years time to be building nothing but zero-carbon homes, when nobody has bothered to tell them, because nobody knows, what the definition of zero carbon is and if anybody is prepared to pay for it.

I am sure Kevin's development will sell well, attracting residents practicing free love and making daisy chains in the bicycle storage area, while caring teenagers pluck radishes from the community kitchen gardens to give to their elderly neighbours - a sort of Neighbourhoody Watch scheme.

"We want to construct homes and make places new residents will want to buy and existing surrounding residents would like too." It's called getting planning Kevin and funnily enough is on most housebuilders' wish lists too.

Anyway good luck - especially in Swindon. As those other prop idols Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp would say, at the end of the day, it is all about 'location, location, location."

43 Principles of Home is published by HarperCollins on October 28th.

Rupert Bates is editorial director of www.whathouse.com