Demand for new build homes is at an all-time high, this means quality can often take a back seat to volume build. While people may attribute this to poor build quality, substandard materials, or incorrect fixtures requiring snagging, it may also be due to the urban design and town planning principles that underpin the new development, including how the land is used and connected to its wider community context.
At PlaceChangers we provide digital tools to ensure developments support the health and wellbeing of occupants. The recent Covid-19 crisis has reminded us of the value of well designed neighbourhoods with sufficient levels of local social amenities and easy walkable access to greenspaces.
Why Apply for an Accreditation?
Accreditations can help developers promote the economic and environmental credentials of their developments. Accreditations also provide a verification capability for consumers.
Accreditations help to identify projects of developers that have exceeded the minimum standard necessary to achieve a planning permission. In most cases, planning regulations in the U.K., but also other countries, set a minimum level of standards for new development, especially when it comes to considerations for active travel or inclusion of considerations for health and well-being.
Accreditation schemes provide a practical way for developers and housebuilders to evidence that they have been able to incorporate the wider elements of valued attributes, such as health and wellbeing benefits, throughout the design and development phases of their projects. Other attributes include building quality, ambitious design for creating environments that support cohesive communities and improve access to facilities such as education and employment.
While a developer isn’t legally required to apply for a development accreditation, there are certain schemes available that they can join, or be approved into, that help citizens prove their credentials and capabilities. For some developers, applying for an accreditation can also be part of a consistent corporate sustainability strategy.
Case studies of the Well Building certification cite benefits such as substantially decreased levels of absenteeism in users for commercial buildings as well as higher levels of satisfaction and comfort by building occupants.
Research by BREEAM cites benefits including value increase for the construction project by adherence to higher standards as a prime benefit of sustainable real estate.
Leading Accreditation Schemes for Design Quality
When it comes to accreditations, there is now a wider range of accreditations out there that increasingly find recognition in the construction industry.
BREAM (BRE Group, UK)
BREEAM (BRE Group, UK) is an internationally recognised, robust standard for the assessment of the environmental sustainability of a construction project or master plan. This method assesses construction projects on 10 comprehensive categories, each with a detailed list of criteria. BRE has developed a range of standards, which adapt the BREEAM method to different project types, including master plans, infrastructure projects, but also stand-alone buildings.
An independent assessor reviews a project near or around post-completion and scores each criteria against defined benchmarks. Weighting of each criteria and benchmarks achieved then determines a final BREEAM rating, ranging from acceptable to outstanding.
WELL Certified (International Well Building Institute, US)
The International Well Building Institute is leading the global movement to transform building development and communities in ways that help people thrive. Their Well Certified scheme is focused on individual developments and is the first to be focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness. The Well standard considers aspects such as natural lighting, indoor air quality, and active lifestyles.
Building for Healthy Life (UK)
Building for Healthy Life is a well-established design coding standard provided by Building for Homes, that focused on the health and well-being of new neighbourhoods. It is amongst the most widely known standards in the U.K., as its predecessor was often referred to in local government guidance.
The Building for Homes group is established for the public benefit for the following purposes:
The most recent version, Building for Healthy Life, was developed in collaboration with Homes England and NHS England, which will add to its popularity in the UK. Homes England pushes for the adoption of Building for Healthy Life standard in all projects it supports, which provides a major incentive for developers who collaborate with Homes England to deliver housing that is part-funded by public funds.
LiveWell (Chelmsford Council, UK)
As a bonus to the list above, the LiveWell developer accreditation is new and relatively unique in its strong focus on health and wellbeing.
Health inequalities are heavily influenced by a wide range of socio-economic factors including housing, education, jobs and unemployment. Planners and Developers are recognising the many benefits that come from incorporating health and wellbeing principles into development projects. The Livewell Accreditation scheme encourages developers to support the health and wellbeing of residents in their development project and by extension, the way the project is integrated with its immediate built environment context.
The scheme provides a way for developers and housebuilders to be recognised for their commitment to incorporating Active Design Principles such as having excellent walking, cycling and greenspace connections throughout the new development alongside wider health and wellbeing measures. The accreditation is based on an assessment using the new Health Impact Assessment Criteria.
Developments considered to be making a positive contribution to health and wellbeing are awarded different levels of accreditation.The criteria includes meeting the high-quality home standard, creating environments that support cohesive communities and improving access to education, skills and employment, as well as promoting environmental sustainability.
The Cost of Accreditation Applications
Costs for application will vary depending on the accreditation that is applied for. An informal application of the guidelines as marks of quality generally would not carry a cost and, indeed, can be part of any good design process delivered by an architect. Costs arise when considering putting the development project forward to be assessed against the accreditation.
For example, the cost for application for the older Building for Life 12 standard, largely involves payments for inspections by panel members at various project stages. This costs roughly £10,000 for the various reviews, plus an additional license fee of 0.0002% percent of the value of each home up to a maximum of £3,000 per development. This license fee covers the use of the accreditation in marketing materials.
Costs for the Well certification are more expensive. As per February 2021, Well certification for a 1000 square feet residential building would involve an initial payment of USD2,500, plus USD6,500 for documentation reviews. The applicant will also need to budget USD7,250 for professional assessors to visit the site.
How to Prepare
Design quality is essential for all developers to consider. In England, the recent publication of the draft National Model Design Code indicated a greater emphasis on design considerations for developers going forward. For instance, the National Model Design Code specifies typologies of areas which would specify details relating to the mix of development, scale,and height of buildings. This will require greater awareness of the content of design codes from the commencement of the planning and building process.
Accreditations are useful for shaping project design, just as much as they can be used as marketing tools. It is important, therefore, to understand the criteria of different accreditations from project commencement in order to allow the accreditation requirements to influence the building design. It is also important to check the guidance and requirements of local governments to ensure compliance is built in from the start of the project. If a Building for Life review is required but has not been considered at the feasibility stage, this can lead to issues at pre application discussions when the local council demands changes that may go beyond the initial parameters of the design.
Generally, it pays to become familiar with a standard that’s suitable to the organisation. If you aim for the higher quality market, as a developer you may have more freedom to go beyond minimal requirements and develop better quality projects. If you aim for the lower end of the market, it still pays to understand one accreditation and its requirements rather well and start working some of their criteria into site designs. Over time, better quality projects will translate in an improved image with customers even without a development accreditation.
Sustainability of a project can go hand in hand with health and wellbeing outcomes. The accreditations mentioned above aim to be labels of quality for a development project.
Accreditation is a testament of a developers' effort of working under local, national or global standards and frameworks. They provide a benchmark for builders and a protection mechanism for consumers; while allowing project owners to show their level of quality and aspiration.
The accreditations mentioned above are examples of robust frameworks but it is good to keep in mind that they are paid for by the project owner. For house buyers it helps to note that even if your builder has the above accreditations, you can also use a search engine to find out newsworthy activities or prizes won from reputable sources. These references are going to be the true test of character. A visit to the properties the builder has worked on will make the suitability more apparent.
With the PlaceChangers digital tools you can tap into our interactive site analysis and check your development against common health and wellbeing concerns. Reach out to us today if you are interested in a demo.