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Grand designs for former Stroud nursing home site: Kevin McCloud explains all

PUBLISHED: 11:09 25 October 2013 | UPDATED: 17:05 25 October 2013

Kevin McCloud

Kevin McCloud

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Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud has opened a show home at a pioneering housing scheme being built by Gloucester-based Markey Construction. Nicky Godding discussed the project with him.

Markey Builders at ApplewoodMarkey Builders at Applewood

Designers make me twitchy. Clever, opinionated people with firm ideas on what constitutes beauty, and what not. I usually feel like a badly-shod lumbering carthorse clopping along in their wake of serene and aesthetic ambition, so for the sake of my self-confidence I try to avoid them where possible.

I felt a bit like that when I met Kevin McCloud, but I also warmed to his sincerity at really wanting to give people a better environment in which to live.

This is the second house development for Haboakus; the first was a 42-home development at The Triangle in Swindon, completed in 2011. Applewood is a more hybrid scheme, with an existing building which the local community wanted to see retained. “We see ourselves as an enabler developer,” says Kevin. “This has been a partnership between Gloucestershire Land for the People, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), Haboakus and the Parish Council.”

The Localism Act, which came into being in 2011, gives residents many more rights to say how their town or village should look. Even down to materials with which houses should be built, whether each house should have bin storage and any other issues requiring planning permission. It’s really empowering neighbourholds to plan their own housing needs, but according to Kevin, not enough people are taking advantage of it.

“There is a fantastic website called: www.yourneighbourdhoodplanning.org.uk,” he says. “There are now five community plans published including for Thame in Oxfordshire which has produced a really sophisticated document setting out where they want housing to go.

One of the biggest issues for the industry and for which some big house builders get a bad press, is quality of construction. “The industry has got used to building the smallest, cheapest houses in Europe,” says Kevin. “We’ve had to because land has been so expensive, and we haven’t been training anyone for 30 years.”

At Applewood, Haboakus has been working with local builder, Markey, which does train its employees. “Much better to work with people who have a connection to the place and possibly take more care,” says Kevin. “You have to drive quality, it doesn’t just happen. You have to enshrine it in the drawings, the design work and get great people on site. What also makes a difference is that [London-based] DSDHA were the concept architects, and Quattro in Gloucester have done the detail work as we have been going through the scheme. So it’s about quality of design and construction. If you want a well-made building you do both.”

So how does this ambition translate into the physical reality of the Applewood show home? We are sitting in the living room of one of the 3-bedroom houses, well, that’s 3-bedroom if the third person doesn’t have much stuff and is probably only 4 feet tall but I am not quibbling. The third bedroom might be small but it could make an excellent home-office. Downstairs the feeling is light, bright and attractive.

What has Haboakus done? “One thing is raising the ceiling height,” explains Kevin. “So when you hang a pendant lamp it looks more elegant and the height gives you a sense of being able to breathe. In a tall room you feel you can stand up straight. Having higher ceilings means longer cupboards for more storage. And you can put in taller windows. I can stand at the back of this room and still see the sky because the doors are also oversized. In many houses you don’t get that view to infinity. This design gives you that connection.”

The houses are fitted with mechanical ventilation, heat is recycled and the buildings are airtight. There are radiators, but the design of the house means they won’t be needed that often.

There are more design tricks to the Applewood houses, but Kevin’s keeping shtum about them, he doesn’t want to give all his secrets away.

Having bigger windows means bringing the outdoors, indoors. At Applewood there was an existing orchard, and elsewhere on the site there are allotments which Haboakus brought out of disuse and are now being used by those already living in the area. “We are putting in allotments for these houses, too,” says Kevin. “For us the opportunity for food growing is paramount and behind here there is a big square which is for play and amenity but also for food growing. “

If Haboakus can do it, why can’t the bigger house builders? “They want to build a product which is replicable. We want architects to design schemes to fit into the landscape.”

Haboakus wants to build 1000 homes a year and its next project is three schemes in Oxford, working in partnership with Oxford City Council on proposals for sites at Barns Road, Cowley, Dora Carr Close and Westlands Drive in Northway. Most will be affordable homes for rent or for shared ownership, with a smaller proportion for sale on the open market.

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Kevin McCloud on developers:

“We should be opening up existing planning permissions and getting communities involved. Some developers like to site on a site then sell it. That’s what development is. It’s about improving the value of land it’s got nothing to do with homes. We are a house builder so we don’t do that.”

Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs:

“I get ideas from Grand Designs, especially on the design process and how to build and work with people. Obviously I see a lot of different manufacturers so I note who’s good. Generally people succeed with a degree of compromise depending on how much expert advice they take on along the way. The people I most admire are those that spurn the advice they are given, do it themselves and still manage to deliver a great building – that’s rare.

“Before we agree to film a project, we do a lot of due diligence and test films because one we have started it’s very expensive, and I am only interested in putting the best on TV. Sometimes it’s a struggle to persuade people in TV that you don’t always need jeopardy, things to go wrong, at all. What you need is inspiring stories –it’s all about the people who are building it, it’s their story and perhaps that’s a bit old fashioned.”

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This article is from the November 2013 edition of Business and Professional Life.

For more from Nicky Godding, follow her on Twitter: @NickyPRJourno

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