The UK's Housing problems are not just about shortfalls in new build supply
Posted by Doug Walters on 1st July 2014

“Tackling housing problems requires a holistic approach”

At the recent and excellent Chartered Institute of Housing Conference in Manchester, I listened to a very interesting presentation from Philip Blond, who was talking about the relationship between government policy and housing supply. He raised some extremely intelligent and, I think valid points.

As an independent IT Consultant specialising in Enterprise Architecture, I recognised his description of a central body, containing representatives from all disciplines and valid interests – a Design Authority in the parlance of my profession – which could operate with executive power to take decisions on planning and building matters within a devolved financial envelope (budget)

However, my concern was (and is) that this is another example of silo-thinking, although to be fair, the session was sponsored and chaired by a housing developer, so to a large extent, Philip had his scope defined for him. The housing crisis will not be solved simply by freeing up more land to build more houses – that is part of the answer. What we require is a radical change in the way society thinks and acts about fundamental issues such as family policy. The truth is that we have to take a holistic view; let me illustrate by describing the circumstances of a friend of mine.

David, lives in a detached, 3-bedroomed house in a small town in the North-West. He works on the North Sea Rigs, so is regularly away from home a lot of the time. David lives with Carol, who works as a carer for the elderly.

David’s neighbours on one-side are a very nice Indian couple with 2 young children (a girl and a boy.) The children’s grandmother also lives with them (as is often the way with non-western cultures – the family tends to remain a coherent unit throughout life.) Both the parents are doctors: father is a consultant at the local hospital, and mother is a GP. They have very busy and committed professional lives, and a lot of the basic child care and domestic work is performed by the grandmother.

This is clearly an extremely sensible arrangement for all parties, and means that the grandmother is not occupying a home on her own - good for her and for the housing supply

Carol works as an independent carer. One of her clients is an elderly couple in their 80’s, who live on the same estate. Albert (who has a son and a daughter living close by) & Barbara (who has no living family other than 2 nieces who have no contact) are living together for companionship and domestic sustenance; when their spouses were alive, the couples were best friends. When their spouses died, they decided to live together in Albert’s house as a partnership of convenience. This is an eminently sensible arrangement from their perspective, but not perfect: Barbara’s large 3-bedroom bungalow in another very desirable part of town is standing empty. Albert’s family are not too happy with the arrangement (lots of issues about the memory of their mother, concerns about financial implications etc) but they respect their father's wishes.

This works well for the couple at the moment, but I do feel that something could and should be done to recycle the unoccupied bungalow into the housing supply; although I'm not quite sure what to suggest without starting to trespass into the realms of George Orwell and "1984"

David’s situation is also interesting. He and Carol bought the property in which they live in 2005, but they split up in the same year and finally divorced in 2007. Carol received sole ownership of the house as part of the divorce settlement. David moved back to live in the property in early 2012 after a lengthy illness which left him in financial difficulties. Although they are not a “partnership” in the usual sense, this arrangement makes perfect sense – David is away from home for regular periods, and renting or buying his own home would involve a property standing unoccupied for much of each and every year.

Although not sustainable long-term, as it is highly-likely that one or both of David and Carol will find new partners, the arrangement makes perfect sense currently.

My point in is that the housing problem is not simply one of supply; it is also about occupation patterns and a whole host of other issues. For example (Philip’s presentation was extremely informative) one third of new-home-demand is caused by marital break-up. In addition to addressing family policy, is there anyway that those with houses that are under-occupied can be encouraged to take in lodgers?

Although boosting supply through energising new builds is of course important, it is equally important to look at all the other factors in the equation. I'm not pretending that this is easy - some of the issues are not just economic, and prompt us to explore our attitudes to things such as family, personal space and inheritance. However, to pretend that the floodgates holding back new builds are suddenly going to open and developers will solve our problems is simply naive

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The Role of The Agile Architect
Posted by Doug Walters on 18th April 2014

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A Practical Example of Architectural Alignment
Posted by Doug Walters on 9th April 2014
I was in London this week for a series of meetings. Unfortunately, my meetings on Tuesday afternoon were cancelled, so I had an afternoon to occupy – not a problem I thought, as I had a mountain of emails on which to catch up, and a number of overdue tasks on my todo list.

So I returned to my hotel room, changed into “civvies” and started to take advantage of the free wi-fi. After about 30 minutes, I lost my train of thought and suddenly thought “what the hell am I doing? It's a sunny (if a little chilly) spring day in London; rarely, I have no commitments; and I'm sitting in a dim and poky hotel room doing emails.” With an out-of-character display of impulsive spirit, I grabbed my jacket and walked into the sunshine. I walked through Hyde Park and into Knightsbridge, eventually walking past the Brompton Oratory, a magnificent building well worth a visit to London on its own, and decided to dive into the V&A Museum to pass a couple of hours.

The mission statement for the V&A is “To be the world's leading museum of art and design. To enrich people's lives and inspire individuals and everyone in the creative industries, through the promotion of knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the designed world.” Its strategic objectives are:

1. To provide diverse audiences with the best quality experience and optimum access to our collections, physically and digitally
2. To be acknowledged and respected internationally as the world's leading museum of art and design
3. To promote, develop and contribute to the UK creative economy by leading the field in debate, inspiring designers and makers, commissioning excellent design and stimulating enjoyment and appreciation of art, design and performance
4. To operate with financial and organisational initiative and efficiency

I spent a couple of hours mooching around the museum generally, and the William Kent exhibition in particular – which certainly seemed to prove that the V&A is succeeding in strategic objectives 1 & 2. However, other aspects of the of the museums’ operation seem to focus on strategic objective 4 to the exclusion of the others. Let me explain…

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Consider the Dimensions of Cloud Deployment to Achieve Secure Collaboration
Posted by Doug Walters on 8th April 2014
In an attempt to simplify the picture to aid business-leaders' understanding, consultants often present a two-dimensional picture of cloud topologies (Private -> Public; IaaS -> SaaS.) It's my opinion that by doing so, they do their clients a disservice - failing to grasp that there are FOUR dimensions to the cloud-scape only causes confused conversations and leads to inappropriate decisions.

There are several “cloud formations” - or forms of cloud computing. Each offers different characteristics, varying degrees of flexibility, different collaborative opportunities, and different risks. Thus a key challenge when considering cloud computing as an option is to determine how to choose the cloud formation best suited to our various types of business operations.

The objective is to enable secure collaboration in the appropriate cloud formations best suited to the business needs.

The aim of this paper is to:

• Explain that not everything is best implemented in clouds; it may be best to operate some business functions using a traditional non-cloud approach
• Explain the different cloud formations
• Describe key characteristics, benefits and risks of each cloud formation
• Provide a framework for exploring in more detail the nature of different cloud formations and the issues that need answering to make them safe and secure places to work in.

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The two faces of the NHS - IT's contribution?
Posted by Doug Walters on 3rd January 2014
Just before Christmas, I had an operation to remove my epididymis; this was the culmination of a TWO YEAR journey in terms of this particular medical problem, during which I experienced the best and worst of the National Health System, which was particularly interesting, since I was a patient at Furness General Hospital, one of the NHS Trusts central to the recent national news headlines about the state of the NHS. My conclusion is that there are some fantastic people working in the NHS, and they tell me that there are some fantastic systems supporting surgical operations – but that there are some real issues in terms of systems which support the "front-of-house" which play a significant part in dragging the reputation of this great British institution through the mud. The lesson would seem to be that, as always, the proportion of attention to each element of the eternal triangle - cost, functionality and quality needs to be appropriate to the purpose of the system. and that doesn't seem to be the case here

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