Monthly Archives: March 2014

London Housing Report: the Princes Foundation

With an introduction  “The enduring popularity and desirability of London’s Sloane Square, Mayfair and Notting Hill neighbourhoods speaks to the strengths of mid-rise as a form”  I wonder if this is really going to be a fruitful read.

However amongst and beyond the quotes from three interviewees, Ben Denton, Ben Derbyshire and Eliot Lipton, there are snippets of value amongst the rather confused structure of the report.

Housing in the UK is no small subject to cover in roughly half a report of 34 pages. Categorise it by historical and current development, policy context, tenure types and current industry recommendations (increase investment, make more land available, empower communities, financial reforms) and conclude with:

“we need to build differently” is to say the least inadequate.

Come to page 24 and we get to the meat of the report, a definition of mid-rise housing, 5-8 storeys. Not up to 10-12 storeys which might have been thought a more acceptable proposition for some of the higher value and better served areas of a world city.

The potential locations and context for mid-rise revealed at the beginning are key routes, small/medium infill sites, large scale new build and estate regeneration.

An important consideration is the so-called “right of way” (R.O.W.). Mid-rise developments can be defined as those buildings not taller
 than the R.O.W. of the streets onto which they face. This is not taken any further as a definition but begs the question “what about buildings overlooking large open spaces, parks, rivers?”

The four separate contextual or typologies are then discussed and throughout the three interviewees make comments for example:

Ben Derbyshire decries the low density of suburbs

“It’s so low the density of suburbia…it’s ridiculously low… it’s got the most enormous density capacity to supply housing. 2/3rd of London is at suburban densities,
and therefore it’s essential to look at the capacity of that 2/3rds as a whole, from the point of view of what it can yield up by way of additional supply. The number that I bandy about is: that if you double the density of only 10% of the footprint of suburban London, you supply all of the housing London needs for the next 20 years…”

Are suburbs unpopular?

but he also states without any evidence to support it

People don’t want housing estates…they
 don’t want that kind of physical and social disjunction between the city that they own 
and privatised space with weird built form… they just don’t want it anymore, and there’s no reason why they should have it.”

Ben Denton acknowledges London’s role as a world city

“London’s attractiveness is as a global city so therefore its market is not just the UK, it’s the world and that brings some quite unusual pressures. So in terms of demand, you’re talking on a world stage rather than just a country stage and so not just the flow of the number of people, but also the flow of money into places creates unusual market circumstances.”

But his role as Strategic Director of Housing Regeneration and Property is also expressed when coming up with ideal options for mid-rise housing…

“…….If you look at some of the great examples of mid-rise across London, historic examples like Maide Vale, they work fabulously well, they had communal outdoor space…that model works really, really well. Everyone would aspire to grow up in Maide Vale and in places like that.”

Not more than 500m away from Maida Vale in Westbourne Green, there is a very different and successful model, mixing estate renewal with new build additions to intensify the density of the area.

Eliott Lipton surprisingly says of the London housing market:

 “London residential is an inefficient market, with customers at either end of the earnings spectrum getting homes – – if you’re rich or in need of support, then 
the state system works for you…it’s the people in the middle that the system works less well for and that is fundamentally caused by a lack of supply.”

No doubt those at the top get what they want but at the bottom too?

The report paints a reasonably realistic picture of the challenges that London is facing……

“While the bulk of demand can be identified at the lower end of the market…….., new developments continue to target wealthier buyers……. The current model of investment into luxury, typically high-rise, residential developments is risking oversupply in the Prime market, while failing to deliver where
 the bulk of future demand lies.

Research estimates that 28,500 new homes are needed at the lower end of the market each year, while only 18,500 will be needed in the mid and upper core markets52. Of the 42,000..(current Mayor’s housing policy target), 15,000 affordable homes are to be developed each year – 40% of which will be for lost-cost ownership, and 60% will be for affordable rent. These targets, given the mere 17,000 homes built in London last year, only 6,000 of which were built by housing associations and councils, have been praised as ambitious, if not unrealistic.”

Social housing as part of a mix is barely considered in any detail.

Fundamental to the report is the desire to paint a single form and possibly visual image for the future of London. Mid-rise has its role but so too the lower densities of inner and outer suburbs. The arterial routes in and out of the city could with improvements to air quality provide fertile ground for higher density mid-rise developments but like so much of city planning this requires joined up thinking and not a single limited solution.