A Housing Design Audit for England

Housing audit visit
Housing audit visit
Project date
  • Research
North West England
Place Alliance
Associated team members
Associated documents

With the drive to deliver more homes across the country has come a loud call for those developments to be of a high standard of design in order to deliver high quality, liveable and sustainable environments for local communities.  To measure this, the Place Alliance (UCL), CPRE, Home Builders Federation, Urban Design Group, Civic Voice, Academy of Urbanism, Design Council, UK Green Building Council, and Institute for Highways and Transportation joined forces to support the first ever national housing design audit. The work is also supported by professional input from URBED, Arup, JTP, and Spawforths, in addition to a network of specially trained volunteers across the country. URBED, alongside a graduate from our joint MArch Atelier at Manchester School of Architecture, assessed a number of housing developments in the North West in summer 2019. 

Housing design audits represent systematic approaches to assess the design quality of the external residential environment.  This new audit assessed at over 140 developments around England and allows for comparisons to be made between regions and between different approaches to the delivery of new housing.  Using broadly the same methodology as earlier housing design audits conducted between 2004 and 2007, the intention is both to look back and see how the design of housing developments have changed over the last decade, and to look forward - by providing a baseline against which to measure progress on place-making in new housing development. 

The findings and report were launched at the Place Alliance's Big Meet 10 on 21st January 2020. Our Senior Consultant Helen Grimshaw shared her experience as an auditor as part of the event. 


Project blog

21.01.2020, 10:41
Housing Audit report launched

Today marks the launch of A Housing Design Audit for England. URBED supported this large scale audit of over 140 developments across England through involvement in the Advisory Board and as volunteer auditors for sites in Blackpool and Greater Manchester. 

The key findings of the report are:

  • The design of new housing developments in England is overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’, with less-affluent communities the worst affected;
  • 75% of new housing development should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design. One in five of these developments should have been refused planning permission outright as their poor design was contrary to advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework. A further 54% should not have been granted permission without significant improvements to their design having been made first;
  • Less affluent communities are ten times more likely to get worse design, even though better design is affordable;
  • Low-scoring housing developments scored especially badly in terms of character and sense of place, with architecture that does not respond to the context in which it is located;
  • The worst reported aspects of design include developments dominated by access roads and the poor integration of storage, bins and car parking, leading to unattractive and unfriendly environments with likely negative health and social implications;
  • Some gains have been made - schemes scored relatively highly for safety and security and were also typically successful at integrating a variety of sizes of house.