Tag: eco-homes

Packing them in, Hab-style

Mr McCloud has been keen to promote his environmental credentials. He’d also have us believe that he’s an imaginative developer. Now that his HAB company’s plans to infill an area behind Northern Road — what they have unimaginatively called The Triangle — have been submitted, we can judge for ourselves.

Not the Railway VillageLook at the two artist’s flights of fantasy. The scenes look just like the Railway Village, don’t they? Don’t they? They don’t. Gone is the pebbledashing of his earlier plans, replaced with render, allegedly to match the surrounding 1930s semis and, if the spin is to be believed, for its energy efficiency.

The development has been set out to achieve high-energy performance targets; this has led to us looking at rendered façade types as the most effective way of achieving these targets.

No doubt, the fact that render is a most effective way of hiding cheap materials underneath never crossed their minds.

They also claim that the monstrosities at the ends of their terraces are inspired by the Railway Village. To quote again from the planning application’s design and access statement,

Further south and just off the town centre is the Railway Village…. These terraces are generally terminated to their ends by a three storey building. The terraces have an area of defensible space to their front allowing for a degree of privacy, and compact well functioning yards to the rear.

Compact well functioning? That’s ‘small’ in plain English. And the three storey buildings in the Railway Village have considerably more in common with the surrounding buildings than Mr McCloud’s bland slabs have with the rest of his development.

McCloud packs ‘em inYou’ll notice in the artist’s impressions fantasies there’s plenty of large cars parked in front of the houses. That’s because despite earlier intentions, the reduction they’ve made in the number of parking spaces per house is concentrated entirely on the smaller, cheaper houses, giving a reduction of less than 30%. And what space they have saved by providing for fewer cars seems to have been used to pack more houses in rather than allowing more space around the houses. If you want a garden, this isn’t the place for you.

What the developers describe as a ‘Multi-functional, humane landscape incorporating adaptations to climate change that places people first & seeks to reduce visual & physical impact of cars’ to me looks — a few wooden fences excepted — incredibly similar to other developments in central Swindon.


Pebbledash and paintworkMr McCloud seems increasingly inconsistent in his attempts to flog his development plans to the people of Swindon. It’s only a couple of weeks since he was claiming that his Northern Road development would be ‘imaginative’.

The site already has planning permission but for a fairly unimaginative scheme. We are turning that around to provide something with the emphasis on imagination.

I’ve never regarded pebbledash, his latest idea, as imaginative.

We are deliberately drawing back to the railway cottages. They are an inspiration for us. The pebbledashed buildings of Swindon are wonderful. I am trying to persuade our architects to do that with these, but I’m not sure they are going to agree.

Either Mr McCloud is unaware of the history of pebbledashing, or he’s trying to dress-up plans for low quality housing as something special. Pebbledashing of many houses in central Swindon is not an original feature. It was added much later, to hide the mismatch in materials or poor work when later building work was done. Its most common use in Swindon’s Victorian terraces is to hide the filling-in where the original windows have been replaced by wider 20th Century ones.

This is about offering great design on a budget. People get the light, space, storage, height and glamour but on a normal budget.

Glamorous pebbledash? It’s surprising that Mr McCloud should choose to associate his HAB Housing company with something that’s a signature of poor quality building work and the urban sprawl of the 1930s.


Mr McCloud may like to think of himself and his HAB Housing company as being something apart from other property developers, but there’s one way in which he is indistinguishable. Like all developers, he can’t resist exaggerating about the quality and distinctiveness of his developments. Having run into a little local difficulty with his Pickard’s Small Field development, he’s now trying to spin a utopian tale about his smaller development off Northern Road.

The site already has planning permission but for a fairly unimaginative scheme. We are turning that around to provide something with the emphasis on imagination.

As I’ve said before, architects attempting to be imaginative is always a cause for concern. But it seems that Mr McCloud’s imagination is actually rather limited.

We want to put in all of the things that we are suggesting for Pickards Field…. We are employing the same architects as the Pickards Field site, so it will be very much in the same vein.

So in reality no imagination at all, just a scaled back copy of something he prepared earlier. Just as a Barratt Home looks the same from Devon to Northumberland, so it appears to be with a HAB House too.

Of course, no development would be complete without a faux consultation.

We would like to break ground this year, or at least some time within the next 12 months. Before then there will be an extensive period of consultation. We want to make sure residents are involved every step of the way.

No doubt in much the same way as he has for the Pickard’s Small Field development. It’s one thing to involve people, another entirely to actually pay any attention to what they say. And on the Pickard’s Small Field development he is now clearly in “La la la, I’m not listening” mode.

I’m under no illusion that there are some residents who have very vociferous views on certain issues. But I think some of the criticisms are unfair…. We have taken on board what residents have said to us and made amendments accordingly. We want to work with the community on this project.

It seems to me that anything Mr McCloud has taken on board from local residents has very quickly been chucked back over the side again.

Now I don’t support some of the more nimby criticisms of either the Pickard’s Small Field or the Northern Road developments; but neither do I support developers giving a pretence of fluffy environmental cuddliness when in reality they’re just as commercial as the rest.

Cosying up

I’m not sure whether what has been reported is exaggeration on the part of Mr McCloud of Hab Housing or poor reporting on the part of the Adver. Either way, it smacks of spin — a mix of the ordinary and the bizarre, whipped-up to look like a luxury concoction.

The TV presenter’s fresh ideas for the Pickard’s Small Field site off Pinehurst Road also include making drains transparent so residents can see the flow of water and increasing wildlife.

I presume those last two aren’t related. Perhaps ‘transparent drain’ is developer-speak for a ditch, in the same way that a car park made from moss and reeds sounds very much like a muddy field.

And one car per home was presented as being a possible house rule of living in his sustainable homes. “I am aware that Swindon is not a bike city but a car city so we face some challenges here,” he said. “I saw some sour faces around the room when I talked about reducing the number of cars per household.”

Before Mr McCloud polishes his environmental credentials to a blinding gleam, lets not forget Swindon Borough Council’s residential parking standards that restrict the number of parking spaces per house.

Thirty per cent of the homes have been designated social housing

That’s also a Swindon Borough standard.

“In the average street in Britain, a resident might only know six or so neighbours,” he said. He advocates sharing tools and cars, as a way of bringing people together. “Sharing objects and material goods is important so people also share experiences,” he said.

Is he planning to run tool inspections? Will anyone owning more than one drill and a saw be evicted for being a member of the DIY bourgeoisie?

His company – HABS – plans to put the homes on the market for competitive prices, but McCloud says all the extra perks will come for free. “Our challenge is delivering this for the price of a three-bedroom house,” he said.

Well, there’s a surprise. The prices will be ‘competitive’… he wouldn’t be in business very long if they weren’t. And as competitive pricing means charging what the market will bear, rather than what the product costs, those ‘extra perks’ are far from free.

Communal orchards or hedgerows with food and a communal hub were also presented as likely possibilities. “We think landscaping is an important part of what we do,” he said. “The opposite is a lawn that gets mowed once per week. Biodiversity is one of our biggest objectives.”

And just who is going to pick up the tab for maintaining these orchards? A little extra on your Council Tax to pay for Mr McCloud’s utopia perhaps?

There’s no doubting that the urban environment in which people live is matters, but there are limits to what landscape and architecture can do to affect the quality of those lives. When developers forget this and imbue their creations with tasks of social engineering that are beyond their powers, they don’t create the ideal homes of the future; they create the sink-estates for the next generation.

House of sticks: an essay in little boxes part 8

I’m in favour of houses being designed to be as energy efficient as possible, but I do have some concerns about the designs that feature in Kevin McCloud’s initial thoughts for his Hab Housing company’s front garden development. Both in the gallery on his company’s website and in the photographs shown at his recent event in Swindon, wood-clad buildings feature heavily.

Mr McCloud has made a comparison between Swindon and Harlow. As I’ve noted before, I have lived in a couple places where architects have experimented, of which Harlow was one. Both those places featured many, many wood-clad buildings. Those in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham were built in the early 1970s… and demolished at the turn of the millennium. The many wood-clad buildings in Harlow have lasted somewhat longer, having been build in the 1950s and 1960s, but the majority have had the wood replaced with uPVC. The few that remain in wood look decidedly tatty.

Wood may look nice when newly painted or varnished, as in the photographs that Mr McCloud uses, but it’s a high maintenance building material and that look doesn’t last. Swindon has enough problems with flawed housing designs, such as the sytem-built pre-cast reinforced concrete houses of Parks, Pinehurst and Penhill. Lets hope that an obsession with making things ‘natural’ doesn’t add to that.

(And just in case anyone is tempted to get overly sentimental about a TV personality leading a housing development, McCloud’s Hab Housing is partnered by Footstep Homes, a joint venture company backed by some fairly unabashed capitalists.)


I don’t like venturing into national politics but, having seen that he who has been anointed leader has suggested the building* of five new ‘eco-towns’ there is one thing I feel I must say.


The aspirations may be laudable.

A home-owning, asset-owning, wealth-owning democracy is what would be in the interests of our country because everybody would have a stake in the country. The problem is that even with the great ambitions of the 1950s or the 1980s, they did not succeed in widening the scope for home ownership to large numbers of people who want it.

But the history of ‘New Towns’ built in the last half of the last century should have taught us that New Towns (even new eco-towns) are not the way to achieve high quality communities. It seems the lesson is unlearnt.

The 5 new eco-towns, each housing between 10,000 and 20,000 new homeowners, will be built primarily on brownfield land. Each new home [will] be built to zero-carbon standards, allowing them to qualify for a zero rate of stamp duty, all the energy and electricity they use will be generated locally from sustainable sources, and they will all be built with strong public transport infrastructure. They will include new state-of-the-art zero carbon schools and health centres.

The first such proposed town will be located on a brownfield site, the abandoned Oakington Barracks in Cambridgeshire, and will include 10,000 new homes, with electricity delivered by solar and wind power.

I’ve lived in a New Town, Harlow. Many of my relatives live in another. I have also lived in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham, an area which is about the size of the proposed eco-towns, was redeveloped in the early 1970s, then redeveloped again in the late 1990s when the planners’ and architects’ bright ideas turned out to be not quite so bright after all. Parts of Harlow and the late-twentieth-century parts of Swindon are meeting similar fates.

Towns evolve over a long period and, with the best will in the world, no town planner can match that evolutionary process when designing a new town from scratch. Concentrating houses with the latest innovative ideas from the architects and developers in one place (or five) is a demonstrable mistake too. Some, possibly many, of the innovative ideas will prove not to be durable, as parts of Harlow and Swindon demonstrate. Today’s innovative house designs may well be the slums of the future. To propose these new eco-towns is to plan in the sort of structural problems that towns like Harlow and Swindon are having to cope with today.

* Note the window title on the page that links to: since when has an archive of press releases been a ‘blog archive’?