The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and CABE said they remain committed to improving the design of affordable housing following the publication of their first affordable housing survey.

The Affordable Housing Survey, which assessed 218 schemes from the Housing Corporation’s 2004/06 and 2006/08 funding rounds, showed mixed results.

The findings showed nearly two thirds, 61%, to be ‘average’, with 18% of schemes either ‘good’ or ‘very good’. A fifth of the schemes, 21%, were assessed as ‘poor’.

Some aspects of the schemes were frequently strong: these included architectural quality, the quality of the surrounding public realm and the tenure and accommodation mix. Many schemes also outperformed statutory minimum criteria, such as building regulations.

But the survey assessed the whole place, not only the buildings, and found other aspects of some schemes to be weak. These included a lack of distinctiveness and having a design that does not respond to its context. Some schemes were difficult to navigate around, or had limited access to local amenities. Around 20% of schemes were marked down as a result of these issues.

In a joint statement, Richard Simmons, chief executive of CABE and Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive of the HCA, said: ‘We all want public housing to blaze the trail for good quality, sustainable design. This survey shows that too much social housing has not been good enough in recent years. High standards are crucial to improving quality.

‘We expect that the next survey will show better results as schemes increasingly take account of the criteria contained in Building for Life, the national standard for well designed homes and neighbourhoods, as stipulated by the Housing Corporation’s design standards in 2007. The schemes in this audit were not subject to that discipline. New ones will be. The HCA will continue to promote high standards of quality in all the housing it funds, and to raise aspirations so that the rest are as good as the best. CABE will continue to support the HCA and RSLs across the country to make this a reality.’

The report recommendations include closer working between RSLs and local planning authorities and enforcing minimum design standards, including Building for Life. The HCA currently requires partners to adhere to the ex-Housing Corporation design standards and ex-English Partnerships quality standards for schemes on its land.

A ‘design and sustainability advisory group’ is currently being set up by the HCA to provide independent strategic policy advice to the agency. The group will provide an ongoing independent perspective on the extent to which the HCA’s statutory duties in respect of good design and sustainable development are being delivered.