Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Talk To Us

All across the land, those ubiquitous cranes, which once bestrode the cityscape like robotic daddy-long-legs, have vanished. Weak building firms are insolvent or merging with rivals. Construction has all but stopped, but with developers currently so quiet, I’m wondering what they’re up to. What are they plotting? What evil plans are they dreaming up?

Property development is in a holding pattern, but investors still own land, ear-marked for future use. These brown-field land-banks remain in stasis, often covered in advertising hoardings. Eventually, property developers will wake up their dormant assets, and building will begin again. But what will they build? More of the same? We can’t let that happen. We have an opportunity here. We must stop them while we can.

Here’s a crazy idea. Why not ask tenants how they want to live? Many buy-to-let investors never see the finished product, although I hope that by now, landlords have grasped the stupidity of buying off-plan and then wondering why the end result is a hovel. Then again, if common sense ruled the world, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Buildings must not be constructed solely for the ease and profit of developers, allowing them to wriggle their slimy way out planning regs and common decency. Landlords should only invest in property they could imagine living in themselves. The flat I live in now has, fortunately for me at least, managed to make humane, civilised use of the allocated space and materials. It can be done, and doesn’t cost so much that managing accountants will splutter and die. So once again, why not ask the tenants how we want to live?

Just gather round those who do, have or in certain cases are destined to live in newbuild flats aimed at buy-to-let, and buy some wine and nibbles. Focus groups can easily distort questions, so none of this ‘…how much do you love your flat,’ and then reporting how these ‘dwellings are adored by all’ business; we’re on to you. And yes, I’ve heard the joke about a giraffe being a horse deigned by a committee, but this is different. We pay for these buildings, and as for the worst examples, well, we’re united in one thing: need better build quality.

Architects, builders, councils, planners, mortgage providers and investors would benefit from accurate research on attitudes to quality, layout, size, numbers of (separate!) rooms and storage. You could be forgiven for thinking that at similar meetings in the past it was decided that tenants actually want to pay extortionate rents for (ooh, yes please!) tiny Spartan matchboxes.

Oh, and soundproofing. In my new home, we can play music at a fair level without noise seeping through. I can’t hear my neighbours cough, or fart (worryingly I could in Dovecot Towers.) If anyone bothered ask us, we’d have told you how important that is. Tenants deserve some consideration, choice, and control over how they live, without orthodoxies like open-plan living being foisted upon them. Developers, builders and architects: are you paying attention?


Mike said...

Most of Europe have far better policies than the UK in all aspects of urban development, redevelopment, tenants rights etc.

For instance Germany has very strict noise suppressing regulations, Holland only allows vertical flues from boilers. The UK though appears to be stuck with legislation that favours builders and landlords and appears not to give a toss about owners or renters.

Surely it can't be that hard to find someone in government willing to go on numerous, endless fact-finding tours to come up with some original ideas?

http://alanu.wordpress.com said...

It's not just Germany that has Noise restrictions placed on FLATS. They are ALREADY here in the UK but NOT in England. In Scotland, new flats must have a 52 decibel reduction in noise SPL between floors. And the Local Council tests it out with a tamping machine before the developer is given a completion certificate. That's been the case for the last 10 years. It's a relatively simple matter to change the law and this should become a demand for RENTERGIRL for the next 2 elections - The EURO on 4/6/2009 and the general on 6/5/2010.

ReubenH said...

Hi Rentergirl,

Glad to see you are still blogging!

Re noise, hope you didn't miss the recent news item that a full 3rd of the nation suffers noisy neighbours. It was reasonably widely covered, but this piece includes a particularly laughable quote at the end: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5129597/Noisy-neighbours-are-scourge-of-suburbia.html

Also, having moved recently (still a renterguy), I thought you'd appreciate my discovery that the deep and capacious cupboards in the living room have their own lights inside them! Not sure you can get much posher than that. :-)

Mike said...

It's not just mechanical noise from occupants, the European legislation covers water pipes, sewage pipes, central heating pipes etc.

RenterGirl said...

First of all, blogspot wouldn't let me respond to my own comments yesterday. And it my statcounter has decided that I live in Wrexham. Anyway...Reuben H. You mean you don't read my blog every week, religiously? Those fancy cupboards have you made you haughty and proud. And you're right about the soundproofing Alanu. It's the between floors noise that is causing problems. In my new flat, i have yet to hear the above me striding around. And, once again, as usual, Europe gets it right. Scotland is interesting: the nerwbuild blight is less evident. And those older flats are reallly strong (not so nice for the people who lived in them originally though.)It's not hard is it?

cynical ben said...

My sister lives in Wrecsam. You should see some of the places you can rent there! You would be pining for Dovecot. I imagine letting agents there use the words 'up and coming area' quite a bit.

dearieme said...

Just copy the Georgian flats in Edinburgh, modified to incorporate lifts.

RenterGirl said...

Hi Ben! I am collecting old postage stamps, like on Blue Peter to raise the money to get your sister out of there. And dearieme: you're right about that. The old style flats were solid, but they need lifts.

Flatrentedinburgh said...

Doing my homework on noise levels in flats found this blog, I fear research with buy to let accomodation when being built from scratch, goes into how much can we make, how can we save! Hey I guess they don't have to live with noisey neighbours! :(

Blair Geddes said...

The worldwide credit crunch has certainly put a slow down to architectural development. Love the German rule for noise regulations. Germany seem to be leading the way in design, engineering and land development. Living 100 yards away from the 24 hour a day work that's being carried out on the Edinburgh tram works prompts me to support a noise regulation act in UK! I thought we had one??