Providing enough good quality, affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges faced by cities. Could more 'compact communities’ offer the answer?
At the beginning of last week, the great and the good gathered at the Centre for Cities launch of their Cities Outlook 2013 report reviewing 64 cities across the UK. According to the report these cities cover only 9% of the UK's landmass and yet they house more than half the population, 58% of businesses and deliver 60% of UK’s economic output. This year's report has a special focus on the housing situation, citing it as one of the biggest challenges that the UK currently faces; in terms of 'the lack of housing and its implications for people living and working in cities and city economies'. So what of London in this context?
The challenges highlighted in the Cities Outlook report are already well known. Affordability is probably the number one housing issue for London; average house prices are four-and-a-half times the average price of a home in Hull. A single person living in London will have to earn an extra £56,000 above the average wage in the city – ie double the average salary of a Londoner – to obtain a mortgage.
Lack of sufficient housing supply, comes a close second. With ever increasing predictions on housing demand, developers and city authorities are struggling to keep up. At the same time however we find there are 240,000 stalled housing development sites in cities across the country, and nearly half are in London, 101,745 sites, and the GLA has quoted even higher levels, around 170,000 stalled developments in the city. Part of the problem that is thwarting progress is the focus on numbers of new build and profits but not demand and retrofit – in terms of building or refurbishing a reasonable proportion of affordable properties to add to the mix. The majority of Londoners simply can’t afford to buy or rent these high-end apartments so developers know they can’t sell the houses and developments stop and sit empty. The Centre for Cities suggests that the National Homes Bonus should be used to incentivise building homes where there is real need.
The Chancellor's Autumn Statement started to try and address this issue through adding £300m in the ‘affordable homes’ programme but we have yet to see how much of this will be allocated to London councils.
A third challenge is the issue of quality. How can we ensure new developments and refurbishments that are affordable don’t resort to cutting back on standards; in terms of the liveability of places, energy and resource efficient design, and ensuring good access to amenities, transport, and green space? The Centre for Cities again sees a role for government, by allowing the new Green Investment Bank to support Green Deal investments in retro-fit, and thus enhance housing quality, alongside reduced VAT levies for refurbished properties.
A couple of days after the Cities 2013 report, CPRE national office hosted a housing debate, seeking to draw some solutions to face up to the housing challenge. A clear agreement arising from that session was that growth is inevitable and so we have to plan for it. All actors, including residents, will need to work collaboratively to create new ‘destinations’; sustainable neighbourhoods where people can live, work and play, with adaptable buildings and infrastructure that won’t need to be pulled down in fifty years’ time.
CPRE London believes that part of the answer lies in developing more ‘compact communities’ within London. This new urbanist model promotes mid-rise, good quality, mixed-use and high density developments. It targets affordability and sustainability through offering a diverse mix of private retail, civic centres, green space, private and affordable homes. We will be writing more on this approach over the year ahead.