• Housing challenge laid bare for new mayor

London’s next mayor will need to make tough decisions about housing provision, balancing density, high rise development and expansion beyond current boundaries to meet demand.
A report from the London Assembly’s Planning Committee has warned that simply opting for “up or out” is to miss some of the key options for managing the growth of the capital. It challenges the mayoral candidates to respond positively to some of the issues raised.
“Now is the time to start planning for London in the 2020s and 2030s. The big question is: how should London grow – and in which direction?” said Nicky Gavron, chair of the GLA Planning Committee.
“The current trajectory has been new and expanded towns within London. This report sets out a series of options – some of which support that approach, others which take it in a new direction. “We do not endorse all of the ideas we considered, but nothing was off the table. These are tough decisions. Whoever wins the mayoralty, Londoners will expect leadership to make sure the capital doesn’t stand still.
“We need bold new ideas to accommodate our growing population in a way that is sustainable and improves quality of life. This pressing issue should be at the very top of the next Mayor’s inbox. Inaction is not an option.”
The broadside coincidentally follows recent comments from Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, who has pledged to grow housebuilding in the capital to 50,000 units a year.
Goldsmith’s “action plan for Greater London” aims to double current housebuilding levels. But alongside that promise is a commitment to “ensure development is in keeping with the local area” and “protect the green belt from development”. He has said that homes built on mayoral land would be offered for sale to “Londoners first”.
Committee members in their report note that staying within existing boundaries will mean London’s population density will approach double that of Paris, Rome or Berlin.
The danger is that supporting infrastructure will not be provided to support the new homes built. The report notes that Barking Riverside, for example, has the potential to support, 10,800 new homes with supporting local infrastructure, but unless transport links are addressed, that potential cannot be exploited: “Without a rail link, no more than 1,500 homes can be built.”
Tall buildings, says the report, are not the answer. They “such should not be encouraged beyond a few designated and carefully managed areas”. Nor are brownfield sites necessarily a panacea. Many are contaminated, or in places with poor existing infrastructure, making them ultimately expensive places to build new homes.
It says a dialogue is needed with other areas of the south east, around London, to ensure effective co-operation towards a common goal, and warns: “The new mayor will do well to start this dialogue sooner, rather than later.”
Regeneration of existing major housing estates can work well, says the report. It notes successful schemes at the Bacton Estate, Camden where density has increased 196%,
And there are suggestions that the Green Belt needs to be revisited, while the Hallsville Quarter in Newham and Myatts Field North in Lambeth have also seen significant densification with regeneration. Correctly managed, more housing is provided at the same time as existing tired homes are either reused or replaced.
There is support for the continued opposition to Government permitted development rights, across London’s high streets. The report says retail centres do present opportunities to get people living back in them once more, albeit in a planned way: “A balance between maintaining employment and increasing housing density in town centres must be struck.”
The report says that denser construction of homes demands what it calls a “new housing vernacular” including higher ground floors, front doors onto the street, recessed balconies and street level parking. It asks the question of whether it is appropriate to put family homes above ground level. The mayor needs to research the role that different housing types could play in delivering more homes, the committee suggests.
The committee has also called on the incoming mayor to help update attitudes towards, and uses of, the Green Belt: “If the Green Belt is to be retained, its functions should be redefined to fit the 21st Century.”

LPA Perspective: This well reasoned document should give plenty of food for thought for the new mayoral candidates. It already looks to be challenging some of the knee jerk, traditionalist stances of Goldsmith. But unless some sensible thinking is applied, London will continue to lurch towards the future getting ever more expensive to live in, and ever more challenging to get around. The danger of doughnut living is in prospect, with nobody who actually works in the centre able to afford to live there.
There are design challenges, too, and there ought to be opportunities for imaginative architects and developers. Sir Terry Farrell recently argued in Planning in London for more dense development, albeit he can see a way of achieving this without going high rise. Others, including Prince Charles (from whom we have not heard much recently) support this thesis.
The Green Belt is increasingly being talked about as a concept that needs updating. Goldsmith already looks to have dismissed this. Perhaps other mayoral hopefuls will be more imaginative.

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