Basingstoke debate panellists (c) MOLA

Interview with Dr Carole Fry, Conservation Practitioner, Architectural Historian and founding Director of AHC Consultants, on the housing crisis

MOLA team

Dr Carole Fry is a Conservation Practitioner and Architectural Historian and founding Director of AHC Consultants where she advises clients including owners of country estates, urban developers, local authorities and the National Trust. Her expertise and insight were invaluable during our Basingstoke Office’s 1 year anniversary celebration where she was joined a panel of experts to debate the housing crisis.

In this interview Carole touches on some of the pressing issues discussed in the debate and gives her view of how the historic environment can positively influence new housing.

Does the way in which we approach planning in the UK help or hinder housing development?

The UK planning system is currently pro-growth, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and is clear that there is now a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. At a micro level, the planning system has evolved to assist applicants to achieve new housing and this can work very smoothly.

At the macro level, there are fundamental problems which are preventing new housing being built. One of the main problems is the continued existence of blanket Greenbelt areas, much of which is no longer fit-for-purpose. A review of Greenbelt is essential if we are to solve the housing crisis without putting undue pressure on our historic towns and villages, many of which simply cannot accommodate more development without causing harm.

There is a vast amount of land in the Greenbelt (and within other designations) that is insignificant, of no or very low ecological value, of no or very low aesthetic value, and where it is not accessible to the public and which needs to be unlocked for housing. This can be achieved, without resorting to the appeal system, via a nationwide review of Greenbelt and the tighter re-drawing of lines to protect special parts of Greenbelt whilst freeing up other, insignificant land areas.

How can we bring heritage and housing together so that we can have the housing and economic development that we need whilst maintaining those qualities that make a place special?

We absolutely can have new housing, and the economic development that this provides, without causing harm to the historic environment. It all depends on the approach that is taken. Every Heritage Asset including significant historic buildings, monuments and even landscapes, be it a Conservation Area, listed building or historic town centre, has its own specific characteristics and this is what gives an asset its unique significance. Once we have identified what this significance is, we can begin to design tailor-made development schemes, specific to the needs and constraints of each site.

As an advisor to house-builders I often advise that, yes, all or most of the required new units can be accommodated, but they may need to be accommodated in an unorthodox way, with a different emphasis on design and layout etc. Just as every historic site is different, so every development scheme should be different if it is to protect what is special about a place.

What do you think that the house/community of the future will look like?

We are now seeing clear indications of a deep-seated desire for community and identity in any new settlement. Often this identity is taken from the surrounding historic environment with new houses being designed in a way which reflects the history of the site, such as being centred on a (newly-created) village green, or incorporating design characteristics from the local historic environment.

There are strong indicators that house-buyers want new homes for the future to be solid, well-built homes that will last; to have open-plan kitchen and dining and to have built-in adaptability so that a house can evolve as a person ages. There is also an established trend towards much smaller gardens and the need for parking for at least two cars.

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