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Options for Londonís Growth by the London Assembly Planning Committee

The number of households in London is set to grow by 27% in the next 20 years; with a projected need for 279,000 new family homes over this period.  On the 5th May 2016, Londoners will be voting for a new Mayor as well as for Members of the London Assembly.  A YouGov poll found that housing is the biggest issue for Londoners, with 61% of those who live in the capital singling it out as the top priority for the Mayor and city government.  With the need to deliver more homes high on the agenda, whomever the successful candidate is, they will need to give serious thought as to how more homes can be delivered.

In the run up to the election, the London Assembly Planning Committee has published ‘Up or Out: A false choice, Options for London’s growth’.  A report that critiques the different options for the growth of London’s housing and poses a series of questions for the next Mayor of London.   The report questions whether the ‘compact-city’ approach, which has been a feature of all London Plans since 2000, can deliver the homes, particularly the family homes, needed.  The report considers how density can be increased through different typologies and whether tall buildings contribute to meeting housing needs.  Finally, the report considers how areas in suburban London and around London’s boundaries might contribute more housing.  It poses that, if the Green Belt is to be retained, its function should be redefined and that by performing a new range of strategic functions it may be easier to justify its retention in the face of housing demands.

Opportunity areas represent the single biggest location for London’s future homes; small and infill developments in these areas are particularly suitable for small and medium-sized developers.  The report finds good examples of developments where family housing has been successfully provided at high densities with traditional low-rise street pattern housing.  Also, that through a combination of policy and housing design guidance a new approach to housing is emerging that mixes housing types and tenures in the form of a ‘new London housing vernacular’.  The report raises concerns that high-rise developments (buildings of more than 20 storeys) will not provide the answer to London’s housing needs as they are usually high value with few affordable options.  In addition, the impact of tall buildings on the skyline can come into conflict with Westminster’s world heritage status. 

Recent studies have found that, at best, brownfield land only represents around ten years supply with an estimated 10 to 20 years housing supply when including increasing density.  Therefore, other approaches, such as suburban intensification, need to be considered.  Calculations suggest that addressing suburban under occupancy and increasing density could add an additional ten years supply of new homes.  However for a variety of reasons some of the notional capacity may be unrealistic; therefore, consideration would need to be given to accommodating new homes beyond GLA’s boundaries.  Potentially this could be in the creation of new Garden Suburbs and/or directing growth to areas well connected to the capital.  Strong dialogue and co-operation will be crucial should London seek to direct growth away from its current boundaries.

Small/medium sized sites and infill developments in locations with good transport links, both within and surrounding the Greater London area, are likely to provide a viable solution in terms of the quick delivery of housing.  In the longer term, the expansion of existing settlements with good transport links to London or the creation of new settlements is likely to provide an important part of the solution to London’s housing needs.

Anna Holloway, Senior Planner and Development Consultant

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