The recently published Aberdeen City Region Deal document projects that the population of the region will grow by an additional 54,000 people within the next 10 years – something that will present significant pressures in housing availability across all markets.
Prohibitively high housing costs already make it difficult to attract and retain key workers, such as teachers and nurses to the region.
To combat this, both local authorities are now seeking a £350million ring-fenced loan towards their strategic development plans which sets a target of delivering 15,000 affordable homes over the next 20 years.
Should the Aberdeen City Region Deal be approved, it will provide a great opportunity to provide more sorely needed affordable housing, but it is an opportunity that should not be squandered by rushing to build cheaply and quickly. A well-built region starts with good design and it is quality – not just quantity – that should be at the heart of these plans.
With countless uninspiring housing developments currently dotted around the region, we are seeing the rise of homes which could be built anywhere but actually belong nowhere.
We must stop building housing where the layout has been dictated by road engineers, which has led to a situation where the cul-de-sac format is king.
We can build more and better quality houses by just re-thinking shared spaces, road layout and specification, surface drainage systems and the landscaping of developments.
Our rigid and nationalised planning and land allocation systems are delivering not only the wrong kind of housing but also a highly volatile housing market. This has significant costs and here in the UK, we now live in some of the oldest, smallest, pokiest and most expensive housing in the developed world.
Furthermore, over the next 20 years the number of people aged over 60 in the UK is expected to increase by 40% and our post-retirement years will be longer and healthier – something that we need to prepare and plan for.
We should be bringing forward sites that enable small developers, practices and community groups to design, deliver and invest in good quality affordable housing design and be brave enough to ignore the advice of property agents in order to recalibrate the way we measure value.
We need to put a stop to this trend of building anonymous, overpriced, low quality homes on overvalued land which have become no more than an investment product, and value homes for the quality of space, light, character, detail and energy efficiency, none of which is taken into account in standard property valuations.
Architecture is a physical manifestation of culture and identity and housing is an important part of that. We need a new and emerging architecture in this region to regain the north-east’s sense of culture and to take an ethical stance towards creating homes that once more put people first through dignified and appropriate design.
We have an opportunity through the Aberdeen City Region Deal to mark a step change in the way affordable housing is built and I would urge our housing providers, planners and designers not to throw away such a chance.