Successive Mayors have identified the need for London to build more homes, but despite some great initiatives and exemplars of urban regeneration, London’s housing requirements continue to outstrip supply and it probably always will. What we must ensure however, is that this does not distract us from seeking to build more.
With a ‘sacrosanct’ Green Belt in political terms, if we are to continue to build more homes, we must look to the suburbs, Zone 3 and beyond, to the suburban centres for opportunity. Enabled by the expansion of public transport and inhabited by those wishing to escape the density and intensity of central London, these areas have typically delivered low density residential development and low performing commercial occupation.
Whilst the regeneration of derelict industrial areas and failing estates has been welcomed (at least in principle if not always in execution!), the densification of the suburbs will clearly prove more challenging. Those who lead the Councils who administer change for disused areas are judged on their ability to deliver change, those leading the regeneration are judged on their ability to affect none/protect the status quo.
In June 2015, my team and I looked more closely at this, to understand where Public Transport Accessibility Levels (PTAL) and therefore accessibility coincided with low density of households. The opportunity from second tier centres is clearly evident through our analysis, demonstrating strong opportunity areas from Uxbridge to Mitcham, Bromley to Romford.
So the question we have all been grappling with since the report is how do we build the public support or understanding of the opportunity to enable this type of intensification, in Boroughs where ‘space’ has been the ‘offer’, or the desire, for many decades? Localism and Neighbourhood Planning only take us so far, as surely this is about more than just ‘involvement’ in the process? To turn this around, a similar question but probably with a different answer is - How do we secure regeneration, densification and provision of new homes that benefit all?
After all what would residents surrounding Nine Elms or Battersea really claim these developments have done for them? Yes, house price inflation is a definite benefit for local communities, but this alone does not deliver a successful ‘place’ and it certainly offers little to anyone renting in the area, apart from a good chance of an upward rent review in the near future. We might presume that with a volume of new housing comes additional social infrastructure, commercial opportunities and therefore jobs, but, as we can know, this is not always a certainty.
We are currently looking in more depth at the potential positive impact a considered commercial space strategy might offer for long-term residential values in a development, as part of mixed use residential-led schemes. By providing commercial space – smaller, fitted out perhaps, with flexible letting agreements - can these spaces be aimed at entrepreneurs and independents, who in turn begin to establish a ‘place’? What communities and alliances might be formed by this provision? Will it attract others into the area and in turn deliver an uplift in the residential development above? Does it create ‘desire’ or sense of pride? Flying in the face of the usual ‘we can’t deliver commercial until there is a sufficient threshold of residents’, we are instead suggesting we take a more proactive curator approach to placemaking, the cost of which is reflected in the viability of the scheme.
This approach is founded on the fact that change is not just about creating something new but adding to what is already present and curating it to ensure it delivers long term benefit and opportunity for an area. It is about demonstrating and securing quality placemaking, through governance; a longevity of product; a mix of housing types and tenure; cultural opportunity and perhaps, as we are testing, the provision of a deliverable commercial to underpin it. The difficulty with all of this is whose responsibility is it to deliver this? Who is willing to manage and curate?
This is a topic we hope to tackle at this year’s MIPIM Cannes 2017, so do watch this space for more on our thinking behind an issue that extends well beyond the confines of London.
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London, PTAL, Estate Regeneration, Densification