New London Architecture

Reflections on the NLA Housing Summit

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Jo McCafferty

Levitt Bernstein

The NLA made a long-awaited return to hosting vital in-person conferences this November, with the Housing Summit held at Hackney Town Hall. It was opened by Tom Copley, London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing, and featured a line-up of industry leaders across the city. It also launched the latest ‘must read’ policy document from the GLA – the Delivering Quality Homes Handbook, written by Claire Bennie, director of Municipal, and supported by a host of experienced collaborators, sets out a series of 50 actions, organised into four themes, to drive up quality in housing. It succinctly encapsulates the changes needed in organisational culture and leadership, methods of establishing clear briefs, the focus required in procurement processes and life-long management protocols to secure quality in the long term. No mean feat in just over 150 pages, with case studies to illustrate that it really is possible.
So, there was a sense of optimistic pragmatism that cold, sunny morning. We were once again physically together, in the heart of Hackney, a borough which has driven policy change, built its own internal team and delivered some of the best housing in the city in recent years. Though clearly the challenges are greater than ever, there is increasing built evidence that many Local Authorities across London are leading the way, upskilling, investing in long term quality and ensuring environmental issues sit to the fore. Many of these LAs are included in the Handbook and are applying lessons learned from each project to the next. And more than ever, many communities are involved in shaping their environments, despite Covid restrictions and the current complexities of engagement. We only had to listen to Rachel Bagenal and Jane Havemann from LB Hackney to hear how this is transforming the Tower Court regeneration project. 
But the challenges are great, and it is at times like these that ambition and quality often disappears, a point clear to Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, responsible for so much of the recent housing quality drive in the borough. There is no doubt we all need to do more with less, in all aspects of our lives – none more so than in the built environment and construction. Not only due to the increasing pressures of LA resource, land and viability, but also the urgency of addressing climate change through greater retention, refurbishment and retrofit projects. We are all waking up to the need to adopt every method possible to reduce embodied and operational carbon in all buildings and ensure every millimetre across our city maximises biodiversity and urban greening.
Despite the visible evidence that this growing number of ambitious LA projects are engaging with these challenges, the Delivering Quality Homes Handbook needed to be written. It now needs to be adopted by every housing commissioner in the city, if we are to stand any chance of Building Back Better. Word should spread in an active campaign, with those not employing these methods left out in the cold. A good start would be to enforce its use for the development of all GLA-funded projects.
So, we should all download a copy today, share it with colleagues, clients and design teams and take a hard look at how our own projects and organisations are performing. We all can to do much, much better and rapidly build on our knowledge together. We need to be prepared to re-think and pioneer, to ensure it not just the number of homes we can celebrate building or refurbishing, but the quality of those homes future generations will thank us for.

Jo McCafferty

Levitt Bernstein



Programme Champion



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