That every London Mayor has grappled with the capital’s housing crisis tells its own story – the issue sometimes feels like a quagmire with no easily identifiable solution. Sadiq Khan’s London Plan makes a good stab at tackling the issue in a holistic and systematic way, but it hasn’t identified a previously unknown “silver bullet” to magically build the homes London needs.
It has, however, re-iterated the importance of transport infrastructure for “good” design. A joined-up approach to development would highlight the accompanying infrastructure that is needed and ensure it is in place at the same time. Frustrations arise when homes are built without adequate transport links or when social infrastructure, such as schools or GP’s surgeries, cannot deal with increased demand.
In the real world, Londoners grow increasingly wary at the prospect of yet more construction disruption and waiting for existing local transport links to be upgraded. This often boils over in local opposition to any new development, despite the homes they promise.
Previous major transport improvements have seen the likes of Stratford and Canary Wharf build thousands of new homes and we’re already seeing a similar pattern along the soon to be opened Elizabeth Line.
Crossrail 2 promises to do the same along its route from the Upper Lea Valley and Hackney in the North, through to the Kingston and Wimbledon areas in the South. The increased connectivity will ensure that brownfield and former industrial sites become attractive to developers, while existing residential hubs gain from becoming better connected and will become even more attractive places to live.
In our response, we’ve argued that all this new development needn’t result in a blanket approach focusing on glass, steel and concrete towers. London has been well-served by considered design in the past – Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks continue to be extremely desirable places to live – and there’s no reason why modern and well-designed homes of good quality wouldn’t be either.
Well-designed mid-rise developments spread across a better connected capital can provide local solutions to the housing crisis, contribute to, and enhance, the character of a borough, while avoiding campaigns against high-density residential towers and blocks. The Plan’s ideas on healthy streets, sustainable communities and the public realm can also play a key role in ensuring London remains a wonderful and vibrant place to live.
The Mayor’s recent pilot to build homes on small plots owned by Transport for London is a great first step towards making the most of smaller-sized opportunities. We’d like to see London boroughs encourage this type of development through the “packaging-up” of smaller sites.
This would reduce planning costs for homebuilders and encourage councils to consider them as part of the solution to their local housing needs. Public-sector bodies, which are estimated to own up to 40% of London’s land, have a key role to play in releasing suitable small plots across the capital.
As well as opening-up formerly inaccessible sites, the increased capacity and connectivity of new transport schemes, like Crossrail 2, could allow a roll-out of a more sensible approach to increased density of housing across the city.
In the London Plan, Sadiq Khan has produced a series of policies which, taken collectively and with some tweaking, could yet build the homes London needs. However, without any significant revenue raising powers of his own, the Mayor’s plans remain at the mercy of central government green-lighting Crossrail 2.
Devolving more powers to the Mayor and the GLA to raise the funds independently for major transport projects could well become the bold solution, or dare I say it, the “silver bullet”, to solving the capital’s future housing needs.
Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE is president and chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) which represents the interests of professional consultancies and engineering companies operating in the social and economic infrastructure sectors. www.acenet.co.uk