Blog: Why is building a home so complex, why does it take so long and why are so many people involved?

To mark HouseMark Scotland’s launch of a new Housing Development Club which aims to provide advice, practical support and networking opportunities, club manager Susan Napier explores the history behind housing development.

History tells us that people built their own houses if they were poor and when the house fell down, they would find stones, earth, turf, heather and thatch to rebuild it. These houses were organic, with very local materials, and can still be seen today, scattered across the landscape of Scotland.

But they had no windows, no ventilation, no insulation and no space, and although perhaps very romantic, would not be considered ‘fit for purpose’ in today’s world of space, building regulations, EESSH and all the different standards which are now required.

We now expect homes to be built robustly and to provide safe shelter for our families. The journey to reach where we are now, started back in the 1860s with the Public Health Acts, which transformed our cities. Patrick Geddes drove planning in the early 20th century, clearing slums and bringing in light, gardens and courtyards. After the First World War, the Homes for Heroes programme produced fantastic new planned ‘garden’ cities and suburbs. The Parker Morris space standards introduced after the Second World War still resonate today, with many developments, resulting in the current standards set such as Housing for Varying Needs.

Susan Napier

Even today, standards continue to evolve and we can expect more regulation on development and maintenance standards, after the Grenfell Inquiry concludes.

All this means is that the number of people involved in any building project has grown dramatically, especially over the last 30 years. Issues such as contamination, SUDS, fire suppression, EESSH and sound insulation have brought a whole new set of regulators, consultants and contractors to be involved in any development project. This has been with the best of intentions, but results in increased cost and complexity.

How could we simplify this? My advice is:

  • Try not to reinvent the wheel
  • Keep the design and specification simple
  • Know who you are housing so time and cost can be focused on what is really wanted
  • Use consultants and contractors who have good experience and good relationships with building control and planning departments
  • Be a strong and confident client

    • Housing development expert Susan Napier is formerly director of business development with Dunedin Canmore Housing Association and current chair of Bield Housing & Care. The Housing Development Club will cover topics such as: building the right team, innovation in development, maximising community benefits, opportunities for sharing services and collaborative procurement, managing risk in housing development and more.
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