Ahead of Grand Designs Live at the end of this month, Primelocation went to see the star of the show, Kevin McCloud, during which he held court about his eco-homes development called The Triangle, in Swindon, nearing completion – and his vindication following its unexpected success.
At the moment, your company Hab is involved in building 42 eco homes in Swindon. What’s the response been like?
The response has been extremely good. We’ve now allocated our social housing tenants, they are in 21 of the homes and the other 21 homes are going not to open market sale but we’ve done sort of open market rent-to-buy and open market home shared ownership. We’ve had a fantastic, overwhelming response. Which after five years of work on the scheme is a wonderful vindication.
So were people sceptical about the project?
One property developer said to me, you’ll never sell temporary housing, you’ll never sell terraced housing, people want detached and they want traditional with little lead porches. I said, really? They said, yeah, it’s safe. People like the idea of safety, they like the idea of a building which will never age. I said well what about the fact that all the interior layouts are useless and that you’ve got huge amounts of circulation space in tiny rooms? He said, no, that’s not right, people don’t want it. And I honestly thought at that point, no you’re wrong, people do respond to good design.
What is it you think people want?
Five million people watch Grand Designs, they’ve come to understand the principle of compression and release, what a big white window will do for you, what a high ceiling will do for you, what a view of the sky will do for you. They’ve come to understand that to be given a tiny, low ceiling hutch isn’t good enough and it’s lovely to be vindicated in a very quiet way.
What are the properties in the development like?
We’re building terraced houses, really, really affordable, standard housing association budget stuff with small gardens, but lots of shared space. With small bedrooms, but with a larger sitting room. With small parking spaces, but a big shared garden and playground area. And so we give, we take; we try and play tricks.
Do you think this way of living will be successful?
In a way the big moment of judgement will not be the day that everyone moves in at all, it will be a period over the following year, as we see people, we hope, form their own community, it may not work, we don’t know, but pray God it does and pray God that they don’t decide collectively, because they can, to tarmac over the vegetable garden and turn it in to a car park.