Are we building Surrey’s new developments in the right places?

PUBLISHED: 14:15 08 April 2020 | UPDATED: 14:15 08 April 2020

Good housing design allows for provision for safe walking and includes green spaces

Good housing design allows for provision for safe walking and includes green spaces


New houses are being built all over Surrey, but are we getting the right sort of housing in the right places? Andy Smith, Surrey branch director of CPRE, the countryside charity, investigates | @CPRESurrey

We are constantly being told that we need to build more houses. And time and again we see local authorities capitulating to pressures from central government and developers by granting permission for new housing estates.

Much of Surrey falls within the London Green Belt – which is supposed to keep the area green and unspoilt – and for most of the last 70 years this designation has protected Surrey’s countryside from being concreted over.

But, due to the government’s constant tinkering with the planning system, the Green Belt no longer has the same power to prevent development, such is the scale of demand for new homes.

Several massive housebuilding schemes approved last year by Guildford Council, as part of their controversial “Local Plan”, provide a salutary lesson. Blackwell Farm on the Hogs Back and Three Farms Meadow near Wisley are both within the Green Belt, but despite local opposition these schemes were given the go-ahead.

As a result, it now seems likely that thousands of new houses will be built on both of these sites. And, as we all know, once countryside is lost to the developers, it is gone forever.

So, with more and more of Surrey’s green spaces being sacrificed and offered up for development, what type of new housing is actually being built?

Are we getting the houses and flats that we need in this country? Are these new homes affordable? Are they environmentally sustainable? And what do they look like?

A major new CPRE report shows that most new homes built in this country in recent years are, at best, “mediocre”.

Based on extensive research, the report, “A Housing Design Audit for England”, published jointly by CPRE and Place Alliance, reveals that 75% of all new housing development should not have gone ahead due to “poor” or “mediocre” design.

The situation is even worse in rural areas, where a whopping 94% of all housing developments “should never have been given approval to go ahead.” That is appalling!

Tom Fyans, national campaigns and policy director at CPRE, says: “This research is utterly damning of housebuilders and their failure to build the homes our communities deserve.

“They must significantly raise their game if we are to create the sorts of places that future generations will feel proud to call home. Significantly improving the quality of design is central to addressing the housing shortage.”

But what makes good housing design? CPRE believes it should include things that we might not immediately think of but which can have a huge impact on people’s quality of life – issues such as well-designed access roads, spaces for bins, and local community facilities.

“In good housing design,” says Tom Fyans, “architecture is in keeping with the local area and the new developments have character, bring about a sense of place, and are energy-efficient and sustainable, including making space for people to walk and cycle.”

The audit also proves that building at higher densities is better, because more compact developments tend to be more sensitively designed. In addition, public transport links and access to employment and public services are critically important.

Unfortunately, as the report highlights, it is all too easy for developers (and the local authorities who grant permission for new housing) to disregard these things and allow the construction of unattractive and unfriendly environments with the potential for damage to health and wellbeing.

Housebuilders need to be more ambitious about building properties ethically, focusing on developments that prioritise long-term social wellbeing and the health of the environment at large.

There undoubtedly is a need for more housing to be built in Surrey, and some of the new homes will inevitably be built in the countryside, but let’s make sure it’s the right sort of housing that gets put up.

Local councils must ensure that new housing is better designed, so that is supports our communities rather than overwhelming them, and provides homes that are energy-efficient and fit in well with other local buildings.

Scale, character, sustainability, good design – these should be the priorities for Surrey’s local councils struggling with the challenge of meeting housing need.

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