“The search for place-based approaches to delivering housing for communities underpins policy, and whether framed as Localism or Levelling-up, it would seem that all roads lead to neighbourhoods.”

In this article, Dr Halima Sacranie (Director of Housing Research, Centre for the New Midlands) introduces our plans to launch a new campaign later in the year, to be underpinned by new research, to explore what a Decent Neighbourhood Standard could look like. How would we begin to frame a Decent Neighbourhood Standard?
We feel this is something worth exploring with, and for, the West Midlands.

(March 2024)

It could be argued that the unit of place which connects housing and communities spatially and structurally is the neighbourhood.  The search for place-based approaches to delivering housing for communities underpins policy, and whether framed as Localism or Levelling-up, it would seem that all roads lead to neighbourhoods.

At the Centre for the New Midlands, we’re interested in the quality, affordability and supply of housing across all tenures for communities in the West Midlands. The quality of homes, however, cannot be considered in isolation from the quality of neighbourhoods. 

In 1998, as a first-year undergraduate architecture student at the University of Cape Town, I joined my classmates on a field trip to the Cederberg visiting little towns in this beautiful part of the Western Cape. We explored the vernacular architecture and streets built sympathetically into the natural landscape, with aspects of planning and design layered over time, embedding great neighbourhoods, with open public spaces looked over and framed by homes, creating safety and security for the communities living there. The principles of sustainable place-making for communities I observed then are no less relevant today.

More recently, in 2022 I completed a longitudinal research study with colleagues at Aston University investigating the impact of housing quality and neighbourhood conditions on tenant wellbeing[1] utilising the ONS wellbeing metrics in a series of tenant surveys triangulated by qualitative interviews. Unsurprisingly, the study found that neighbourhood conditions had distinct wellbeing impacts. Better access to schools, public amenities, essential stores and GP surgeries were associated with higher subjective wellbeing and were positively related to happiness and lower levels of anxiety.  Community qualities like safety, trust and social cohesion in the neighbourhood and a sense of belonging were also all associated with higher levels of wellbeing. Conversely, concerns over the neighbourhood were associated with lower levels of wellbeing as well as anxiety, especially for social renters or those living in new build homes.

Locational aspects of neighbourhoods affected wellbeing too, and interestingly for social renters, living in mixed tenure communities was seen as positive, while access to green outdoor spaces (from small gardens to large nature reserves) were critical to wellbeing for all, particularly in the context of the pandemic.

In the same study specific negative wellbeing impacts were related to neighbourhood conditions like traffic and pollution, lack of access to shops, schools or GP surgeries. Reduced public transport services (like bus routes) affected the wellbeing of social renters, new housing developments in the neighbourhood were seen to be aggravating traffic on existing road networks, while tenants expressed concerns about the lack of additional facilities like schools or GP surgeries to cater for expanding communities.

Similarly in our Centre for the New Midlands Affordable Housing Report [2] published last year, these themes emerged around neighbourhoods and ‘nuanced nimbyism’. The resistance to aesthetically unattractive developments that do not enhance neighbourhood quality, the concern about the affordability of new homes and being outpriced from local housing markets, the pressure on existing health and education services, the lack of adequate transport infrastructure, in the form of increased traffic or lack of public transport were all identified as barriers. This reflects another inextricable link between housing and neighbourhoods, where the impact of the quality of neighbourhoods on the wellbeing of communities has implications for the delivery of new decent quality housing.

We have a clear understanding of what makes a decent home as set out in the Decent Homes Standard[3] guidelines, but the guidelines also allude to aspects of neighbourhood renewal in setting out how the delivery of Decent Homes can form part of a wider strategy for regeneration and mixed communities:

“Delivering decent homes is a commitment in the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal and has a key role to play in narrowing the gap between deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country. Delivery needs to be part of a holistic approach to regeneration which is about more than just ‘bricks and mortar’ and which makes the right linkages to wider regeneration objectives such as improving health and education outcomes, renewing failing housing markets, tackling poverty and delivering mixed sustainable communities”

(Decent Homes Standard, 2006, pg. 8).

 Some of the defining characteristics of mixed communities as set out by the Decent Homes Standard guide include having ‘good quality housing in attractive environments with access to good local schools and retail or leisure facilities and other services such as health; a mix of housing size, type and tenure; strong local economies which contribute to strong regional economies; good connections to employment opportunities through neighbourhood design, transport and job access services; providing access to other economic and social opportunities for all residents, enhancing their life chances;  high quality housing and neighbourhood management; low levels of crime and providing support services for vulnerable people and families at risk.’ (Decent Homes Standard, pg.9).

The government did set out a review of the Decent Homes Standard in June 2023 looking at a range of updates on the standard, and also applying the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector. On the holistic approaches referenced above, critique of the Decent Home Standard in its current form suggests that beyond a technical checklist of component parts of houses, quality standards should embed broader impact measures like wellbeing, and it would be important to incorporate these in any Decent Neighbourhood Standard too.

On first principles, we would expect that a Decent Neighbourhood Standard would include access to secure, affordable and Decent Homes, set out sustainable planning and design quality guides at neighbourhood level for mixed use and a mixed housing tenure, access to green and public or community spaces, with public transport infrastructure and road networks. Beyond planning, Decent Neighbourhoods should support the wellbeing of the communities who already live there, and new communities being created.

Decent Neighbourhoods should be equitable, reduce disadvantage and combat endemic loneliness. The quality metrics would ideally include access to healthcare, schools and childcare for communities, and support health and wellbeing through low levels of noise and air pollution. Decent Neighbourhoods would be socially integrated, tolerant and engage communities, with low levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. And finally Decent Neighbourhoods would be digitally inclusive, offer local jobs, skills and opportunities, pathways for young people and care for the elders in our society.

While some of these intangible qualities might not lend themselves to easily measurable variables in the same way as the lifespan of a kitchen or bathroom, or the energy efficiency of insulation, the physical, social, and economic fabric of communities is knitted together by a patchwork of all these interconnected factors.

How broad or narrow would a Decent Neighbourhood Standard need to be to make it meaningful, robust but also practical to adopt across the West Midlands, and crucially help inform linked-up policy across a range of areas focused at this place-based level?  Crucially, who would be responsible for adopting the standard and how?


While we can generally assign the responsibility for the quality of homes to owners, builders, developers and landlords (although the Grenfell Tower Inquiry may lead some to challenge the clarity of that accountability structure) beyond buildings and homes, a Decent Neighbourhood Standard raises the question of who is ultimately accountable for the quality of our neighbourhoods.


The financial pressures on, and resource constraints of, councils across the region are well publicised and whatever complex bundle of reasons are attributed to the state of public services and finances, they aren’t quick fixes and communities have needs now.

It can’t be unrealistic therefore to aim for the application of neighbourhood level standards that we can all be accountable for, whether through the public sector,  public-private partnerships, or through empowering local communities to make the decisions that improve their neighbourhoods. What role can developers, investors, the private sector, the charity sector, and civic and community groups play with local authorities so that we are all collectively responsible for the quality of our neighbourhoods?  A Decent Neighbourhood Standard could provide the framework to benchmark that quality and allow us to make targeted policy decisions based on improving the aspects of neighbourhoods that are preventing communities from thriving.


The final report of the APPG for the ‘Left Behind’ Neighbourhoods’ Inquiry into Levelling Up published in October 2023[4] sets out a definition for the neighbourhoods identified as ‘left-behind’ facing multiple challenges and disadvantages, as well as policy recommendations for central government, local government and community groups within a levelling up policy context. The report also describes “A basic lack of sufficiently detailed data to guide policy decisions and ensure levelling up reaches the ‘left behind’ communities it is supposed to prioritise.”

A Decent Neighbourhood Standard might be the answer to providing that baseline data, at a neighbourhood level, to help inform funding and policy decisions.


With regards to Future Home Standards, energy efficiency and transitions to net zero housing are an integral part of addressing housing quality, in both new builds and in the retrofitting of existing housing stock. Rather than having to layer on a Future Neighbourhood Standard though, a holistic Decent Neighbourhood Standard could integrate environmental, ecological and bio-diversity variables contributing towards greener and socially just net zero transitions for communities.


How would we begin to frame a Decent Neighbourhood Standard? We feel this is something worth exploring with, and for, the West Midlands.


In 2024 we will be launching a campaign to be underpinned by new research to explore what a Decent Neighbourhood Standard could look like. The first 6 months of this Decent Neighbourhoods programme will be about engaging with the region across the public, private and charity sectors, with academia, and most importantly with communities too. This collaborative endeavour will include a call for evidence submissions, seminars, roundtable discussions and community workshops, including special project sessions at our Centre for the New Midlands conference in the summer.


This will allow us to set the parameters and scope for the new research which will include sharing the evidence submitted by different stakeholders and gathered through community engagement, reviewing literature on neighbourhood standards in the UK and internationally, setting out a new proposed Decent Neighbourhood Standard and then piloting the application of this framework in a number of case studies across the West Midlands including a range of existing, regeneration and new development type neighbourhoods.


We would like this to be an outward facing and collaborative programme, and over the next few months will share how you and your organisations can get involved from submitting written evidence, to co-facilitating community workshops, attending our project sessions at our summer conference and more.

In the meanwhile, if you have any thoughts or comments on this article and our planned programme please do get in touch. This will be an ambitious project but one that has huge potential for positive impact, and we look forward to working together on this for the benefit of our communities and our region.



[1] https://www.aston.ac.uk/research/bss/abs/centres-hubs/cpfw/projects/personal-wellbeing



[2] https://www.thenewmidlands.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/CNM-Affordable-Housing-Roundtable-Report-April-2023.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-decent-home-definition-and-guidance


[4] https://www.appg-leftbehindneighbourhoods.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/A-Neighbourhood-Strategy-for-National-Renewal.pdf


Dr Halima Sacranie is Director of Housing Research at the Centre for the New Midlands.

Halima completed her PhD at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) at the University of Birmingham in 2011, which was the regional centre of excellence for housing policy research. Following a college restructure and several senior academic retirements, CURS staff were absorbed into different departments at the University of Birmingham. Halima worked with leading housing academic Prof David Mullins to establish the Housing and Communities Research Group based in the Department of Social Policy, taking on leadership of this group from 2018 when David retired.

In her capacity as Housing Research Lead, Halima has worked on a range of research projects from the stage of project bids to designing methodologies, undertaking empirical research, producing final reports, and disseminating findings through publications and conferences. Halima’s most recent research has been as UK academic partner on CHARM (Circular Housing Asset Renovation & Management) which is a 4-year project EU funded project aiming to develop an asset management approach that prevents downcycling of materials in the renovation and construction of social rented dwellings. Her work on the project has focused on the impact on, and role of tenants, across the partner organisations adopting Circular Economic principles in social housing case studies. Other projects Halima has undertaken recently include a 3-year study on Housing Quality, Neighbourhoods and Resident Wellbeing with VIVID Homes, and a 2-year study with the Gambling Commission and Birmingham City Council on harmful gambling and tenancy insecurity. Previous public grant project evaluation work has included the national and regional evaluation of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme, and Halima has worked with funders like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Nationwide Foundation and the ESCR.

Through her research experience, Halima has developed a strong understanding of the housing policy and built environment context in the West Midlands, as well as a familiarity with key stakeholders in the range of sectors encompassed by the housing and communities’ agenda.

In her role as Director of Housing Research, Halima is building a programme of research with the ambition to establish the thinktank as the new centre for excellence for regional housing policy research. She remains a Research Fellow at both the University of Birmingham and Aston University and so is still embedded in an academic community and able to draw on university resources and networks in her work.

Connect with Halima: