Kevin McCloud’s own ‘grand design’ in chaos

By Will Hurst, Amanda Baillieu

TV presenter replaces Wright & Wright with practice ready to work weekends for no money

A ground-breaking attempt to transform the quality of British housing led by Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud is in chaos after his development firm dumped its architect Wright & Wright.

McCloud’s company Happiness Architecture Beauty (Hab), which aims to deliver “contextual, sustainable, contemporary, enjoyable, sociable, affordable and profitable” homes, appointed the award-winning firm in January for a £19 million project in Swindon, with further phases planned by David Chipperfield and DSDHA.

But Wright & Wright claims that despite being paid around £100,000 for designs up to RIBA stage C on various housing types and seeing the results praised by Hab as a “tour de force”, the developer then dropped the practice following a row over subsequent fees.

This followed long delays, complaints by the architect that it was being asked to work “at risk”, and its request for an additional £15,000 to compensate it for the postponing of instructions.

McCloud, who is well known for his pithy commentary on Grand Designs when overambitious projects run into difficulty, launched Hab two years ago in frustration at the low-quality, low-investment world of volume housebuilding in a project compared to Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve school dinners.

Hab has now appointed Glenn Howells Architects as a replacement, following approaches to AHMM, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Maccreanor Lavington, but will have to start design work from scratch because Wright & Wright has refused to sell the copyright on its work, BD understands.

Hab, which has yet to strike a deal with Swindon Council over land and is partnering with Westlea Housing Association, has previously parted company with two earlier development partners — Bioregional Quintain last June and Footstep Homes, an offshoot of Highmore Homes earlier this summer.

Wright & Wright, which had employed six staff to work on the project, said it had originally worked at a reduced fee on the project up to stage C in the expectation of future earnings, and had been forced to shed two members of staff due to the fallout.

Sandy Wright said: “He posited the idea he was going to change housing, but it’s gone hugely awry. What a missed opportunity.”

Respected engineer Max Fordham, who personally worked on the early stages of the Hab project and whose firm is still involved, claimed Hab had been too idealistic.

“Trying to do a good [housing] scheme involves more than being idealistic,” he said. “The message has to get out that you can’t do these things without properly organised funds.”

McCloud, who admitted the past two years had been “bumpy”, expressed sympathy for Wright & Wright but insisted Hab had behaved honourably in a time of economic difficulties.

He claimed Hab had now paid the firm around £122,500, which represented “the guideline rate” for work up to stage C on a £19 million project, plus some extra expenses. “I wanted to take [Wright & Wright] on right through, of course,” he said. “I have every sympathy with them but I believe we’ve behaved honourably.

“In these difficult times we were looking for a practice willing to take a more commercial punt on the project. [Wright & Wright] are a small firm… for us Glenn Howells is a better fit for the joint venture. He said he’d have to work weekends and evenings for no money and we said yes.

“He runs a practice large enough to take a punt.”

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