Thursday17 August 2017

High-density living ‘not unpopular', London Assembly told

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But inquiry hears new high-rise development is not viable everywhere in the capital

A London Assembly inquiry on increasing housing density has been told that there is little evidence schemes that pack residents together tightly are unpopular with occupants.

But the session heard that higher-density development was unlikely to be delivered in new towers all over the capital because they were too expensive.

The inquiry, held by the assembly’s Planning Committee, sought to examine ways that the next London Plan – due to be published in draft form this autumn – could help the capital meet its housing needs by increasing density.

Planning consultant Lin Cousins, whose Three Dragons firm has reported on the issue to the Greater London Authority, said research indicated that residents living in higher-density developments were generally satisfied with their situation.

“We didn’t pick up anything from the survey of residents, nor from the management agents, that people were living in these buildings because they had no other option,” she said.

“It’s reasonable to say that there are groups of people – not necessarily everyone – but there are groups of people who are reasonably happy living in high-density developments.

“One of the interesting findings is that the kind of courtyard development, of quite high densities in tall blocks, seemed to work well for affordable housing for families, but I wouldn’t want to give the impression that is the only solution.”

Cousins stressed that while high-density was not the same as high rise, there was some evidence that people living in tower blocks preferred to be on higher floors.

Cousins said her consultancy’s research had not identified  one particular type of building that worked better than others for delivering high-density schemes.

However she said towers were only viable in parts of the capital that had high enough market values.

“I wouldn’t anticipate [them] being something you see in every part of the capital, because the economics don’t work,” she said.

Architect Crispin Kelly, of developer Baylight, said the tall buildings always provoked “a lot of opposition from local people” and that the quality of the architecture was not a significant factor.

“Suggesting a new tower is not going to be popular, and it’s going to be many decades before people think new clusters of towers were a good idea – if it turns out to have been a good idea,” he said.

“People are not that bothered about whether it’s a good design or a bad design.

“It doesn’t make that much difference when it’s 20 storeys high and there’s nothing there at the moment.”

Kelly suggested the capital could increase the quantity and density of new homes by changing the rules on affordable-housing liability.

He said the current 10-unit threshold made nine units a standard quantity that developers sought to deliver, and that raising the level even to 12 would significantly impact housing delivery.

Kelly also suggested that developers should be encouraged to speculatively apply for planning permission to deliver infill-housing on council-owned land, which authorities would then be required to sell on if the plans were approved.

Supporting evidence to the Planning Committee session said that while London’s average population density was 55 people a hectare, it varied “considerably” across boroughs.

It said that while there were fewer than two residents per hectare in some parts of Bromley, Westminster had more than 277 residents per hectare.



Readers' comments (4)

  • "reasonably happy" and "not unpopular" (which notably is not the same as saying "popular") are hardly ringing endorsements.

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  • Stewie

    “We didn’t pick up anything from the survey of residents, nor from the management agents, that people were living in these buildings because they had no other option,” she said.

    You mean research from her "survey" which is no doubt as unreliable, flimsy and biased to building tower blocks as you can get. Authoritative? from some paid planning consultant of little standing, no I don't think so. As opposed to decades of real life experimentation of tower blocks from the 60s and 70s that show they categorically don't work and are unpopular. Is the inquiry here just putting the case forward as a sham to justify a panic response to the housing crises. Lets see this 'inquiry' for what it is.

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  • Heiter Mirage

    Brexit will bring an economic shift from cities to new self-sufficient hamlets on what used to be called Green Belt. London will become a leafy backwater; the Cotswolds will become Silicone Suburbia.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    One person's tower block is another person's residential high-rise. Good enough for the millionaires of Manhattan. So certainly good enough for the petite-bourgeoisie of the UK.

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