The pandemic has shone a light on what we already know: good quality housing, which is integrated with good quality design, through the prism of place-making, makes a huge contribution to the health and well-being of local communities. We are also all too aware that poor housing has a detrimental effect on health and health outcomes. This is why APSE is hugely supportive of the campaign for a Healthy Homes Act to ensure that its principles are enshrined in law.
APSE and the TCPA recently completed our sixth joint housing research collaboration, which identified many problems within the current system and made recommendations for improvement. In ‘At a crossroads, building foundations for healthy communities’ we called for:
The last decade has seen the erosion of regulation that governed development in local areas. This has created a developer’s charter; leaving local authorities with little by way of powers to prevent poor quality development and even less resources following a decade of austerity.
Since March, the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have seriously exposed the extent to which poor quality housing has a corrosive effect on the wellbeing of local communities.
In terms of design and spatial standards, we are seeing shoe boxes passed off as new homes. If we are to move to a ‘new normal’ then we must stop building homes where parents are working off ironing-boards or children are slumped on their beds because there is no space for desks.
Nor should it be the case that only those lucky enough to have a garden can access greenspace? The new normal ought to mean that any household, irrespective of its income, has access to parks and a good-quality public realm.
Finally, emerging data clearly suggests that COVID-19 has hit hard amongst those poorer groups living in over-crowded households. As a communicable disease, it is quite simply the case that over-crowding will spread the disease faster.
It is disappointing that the recently announced white paper and planning consultation continues to show faith in permitted development. It cannot be right that a model that has led to children living on former industrial estates, with no pedestrianised walkways or access to parks, open spaces or even healthcare facilities, is in anyway considered acceptable in the UK in 2020.
In a post-pandemic environment, we simply cannot afford to ignore the links between housing and health. We also cannot leave it to the market to determine what local place will look like moving forward. We need properly empowered, locally-based, democratically accountable local government to act as stewards of place; prioritising people’s health over developers’ profit and driving change for a better tomorrow.
That is why APSE strongly supports the campaign for a Healthy Homes Act. If we really are to ‘Build Back Better’ then we need to start with the fundamentals. Giving people a good quality home to live in, within a decent neighbourhood, would be a good start.