As we are all painfully aware, Faversham is suffering a flood of new housing developments which threaten the character and identity of the Town as well as overwhelming its available services and infrastructure and causing permanent damage to the local environment.
In previous editions we have looked at the validity of the housing needs assessments compulsorily undertaken by Swale and found them to be at best dubious and at worst unreasonably biased in favour of the landowner and developer.
Given the inevitability of this rash of new house building, it is important that, at the very least, it is appropriate to the real needs of the local population, is well designed and constructed and meets the highest possible environmental standards. Not just the minimum the developer, with his short-term interests, can get away with.
In this and future issues of the Eye we are going to look at some of the worst examples of newly built houses in the town. Three of the criteria we will use are: Size. Environmental integrity and building quality. Architectural merit.
Unlike the rest of Europe, England has no national minimum dwelling space standards. England also has - and builds - some of the smallest dwellings in Europe, a trend that has accelerated in recent years. Previous minimum standards established by the Parker Morris Report in the 1960s were scrapped twenty years later by Margaret Thatcher.
Obviously, there is an antipathy to space standards amongst house builders, but what is surprising is that homebuyers tend to assess value primarily in terms of number of bedrooms. Nowhere else does this occur, buyers of office, retail and industrial space pay per square metre, likewise in Europe, house buyers and renters assess their prospective homes in the same way.
Tiny bedrooms, cramped combined living/kitchen areas, replacement of bathrooms with compact showers and minimal storage spaces are now common in new houses and flats as developers scramble to squeeze maximum profit out of every building plot.
Much new housebuilding is characterised by the emphasis on speed of construction and cheapness of materials rather than the long-term durability and future adaptability of the product. This is likely to reduce the lifespan of the property by possibly 50%. Not a concern to the private developer.
The “Code for Sustainable Homes” launched in 2006 was intended to help reduce UK carbon emissions and create more sustainable homes. Mandatory in England until 2015, if it was a requirement of a local authority’s local plan, it is now only voluntary and often ignored especially by the smaller developer.
A trickier criterium to assess but of profound importance, this requires the local authority to exercise the maximum pressure on the housebuilder to produce something more than a bland development with little more than superficial architectural pastiche applied to the exterior of the homes to appeal to the purchaser.
In this edition we are looking at New Creek Road
This terrace of five houses was completed about a year ago and at least one is still for sale awhile others are rented.
Timber frame constructed with an exterior skin of blockwork, render and weatherboarding, scant regard seems to have been given to the enhanced environmental features which can be readily and cheaply incorporate during the construction phase. While we are not suggesting that they do not meet all enforceable building regulations it does seem that nothing more than the bare minimum requirements have been met.
The estate agents claim a total approximate floor area of 1084 sq.ft but if one removes the lower ground floor which houses only the garage and utility space, being unsuitable for habitation, the usable living space is slightly less than 800 sq.ft. The 2015 Government nationally described space standards set out detailed guidance that stated that the minimum floor area for a 3 bedroom dwelling of this type should be around 950 sq.ft
In order to squeeze in three bedrooms, the kitchen and living rooms are combined and no bathroom provided, just two very small shower/WCs. The smallest bedroom is less than 50 sq.ft whereas the 1965 Housing Act specified an effective minimum size of 70 sq.ft.
The estate agent’s description says:
“The property offers a modern lifestyle with open plan living, integrated kitchen appliances and en-suite shower room. Convenience is also considered, with fitted wardrobes and a garage to each property providing practical solutions for everyday living.”
A single skin of blockwork, render and weatherboarding provide a cheap but less durable cladding to the terrace and the timber frame and plywood construction do not lead to the highest standards of soundproofing internally and make future adaptability difficult.
Prospective purchasers who inspected the properties commented on the cheapness of the internal finish. No additional features such as solar panels have been incorporated and there are no gardens.
With a garish yellow finish and no front garden the terrace sits uncomfortably in its more suburban surroundings. The rear of the dwellings offers a barren view of tarmac and wooden fencing. There is no greenery of any kind.
However, the single biggest offence to the senses is provided by the four stuck on pretend chimneys which serve no purpose whatsoever.
The estate agent says that the design of the terrace is “inspired by many of the nearby buildings which are a mixture of both modern and old architecture”.
To summarise the end terrace is currently on sale (originally others were unsuccessfully offered for sale by other Faversham-based estate agents) for £450,000, reduced from the original asking price of £475,000 with Thomas and Partners of Herne Bay.
At £562.50 per square foot this represents poor value for money even after allowing for the fact that the house includes a garage and parking. Similar new garaged properties in Faversham which also include gardens are currently on sale for around £350.00 per square foot. Nearby a historic listed 3/4 bedroom house with off-road parking and garden is for sale at £342.00 per square foot.
The terrace shows no signs of being sold at present, which reflects on the good sense of prospective purchasers, however, this new development demonstrates clearly the danger of at least some of the new housing being developed in Faversham being too expensive for local people in need of a house, doing nothing to enhance the built environment and little to help us to build sustainably for the future.