Bricks and mortar, glass and steel, wood and earth. Houses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can suit all sorts of people. Whether you’re a Lord of the Rings enthusiast looking for a Bilbo Baggins style eco home, or prefer the view from a 5th floor apartment with all the modern convenience items at hand including a fridge with Wi-Fi.
Except in reality, away from the world of Grand Designs, this isn’t true.
The biggest housebuilders still use bricks and mortar and will design three or perhaps four types of house. These house designs will then be copied and pasted right the way across large developments and often across multiple sites. This means that if you’ve just bought or rented a new house built by a large builder, chances are there are a fair few exactly like it.
To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of the large house builders. Using a limited number of designs and repeating what you know en masse makes sense, both economically and in terms of building the sheer amount of homes required. But if we’re going to hit the ambitious house building target, and possibly exceed it, we’re going to need more innovation and new ideas in house building.
Small builders collectively made up a huge proportion of new house builds prior to the financial crash – reaching 2007 levels would give us about 27,000 new homes a year. But since 2008, small builders have become somewhat of an endangered species.
Small builders, due to their nature, I’d hope are more likely to innovate and move away from the tactics employed by the large house builders. This could mean more ingenious housing solutions, similar to the Box City planned for Cardiff, or more sympathetic building that fits in with what is needed locally and meets a niche in the market.
We can get these people building again by cutting red tape, identifying areas that small builders might be interest in that the big boys are not, and creating an environment that allows for new ideas in housing, so that we truly are more than just bricks and mortar.
If we want to solve the housing crisis then we all have a part to play, but we also need to make sure we have homes that suits our needs, and that includes the needs of Bilbo Baggins.