Friday, May 23, 2014

The quality and distribution of housing

The new planning minister thinks that he has found the answer to fixing the mismatch between housing needs and supply: build on 3% of there remaining greenfield land. And if we make it beautiful to look at and live in the customary objections will evaporate? At least Mr Boles has moved the debate on from sheer numbers to questions about quality. However I think that he is missing the point about the fundamental flaws in the model for new housing. He has not to my knowledge taken the carbon reductions in the Climate Change Act 2008 into account. There would be a very large carbon cost to building 300,000 new dwellings per year. Previous blogs have referred to the need to concentrate efforts on low carbon housing and the prime candidate should be co-housing where the building area is minimised by sharing space with communities of over 20 households and environmentally conscious living is part of the ethos and a condition of occupation. Mr Boles and his housing colleagues support self-building and specifically group self building that would complement co-housing. Whilst there might not appear to be any significant demand for co-housing in this country I believe that this is largely due to the lack of supply. The planning system cannot take a neutral stance and have 'no objections' to a radically different form of housing. Our planning experts (public and private sector) should embrace co-housing as the most sustainable form of residential development that should be privileged in all development plans (see draft Drayton near Abingdon Neighbourhood Development Plan). Most if not all units would be 2 bedroomed with access to all the shared space providing other facilities. The older households moving to this attractive form of downsized accommodation would be releasing larger dwellings onto the market. They would also be able to use their capital to finance the co-housng scheme so that rented accommodation would be available to those unable to buy. To build new family housing at a time when under occupation is more prevalent than overcrowding is to perpetuate the waste of buildings and space which is unsustainable in an energy and carbon constrained world. Incidentally the Drayton NDP has been submitted to the District Council with policies supporting sustainable development (Code for Sustainable Homes 6), low carbon transport, group self-building, co-housiong, small dwellings (and removing permitted development for extensions which could compromise the energy efficiency and housing fit), any extra bedrooms as annex or bedsit to accommodate children staying or returning home and elderly needing or wanting care. Post Occupation Evaluation is also expected. In the Guardian and 5thof Wednesday 21 May Simon Jenkins explained why "There's no housing crisis just a very British sickness". Relying on Danny Dorling's All that is Solid and Neil Monnery's Safe as Houses, Jenkins describes the distortion of the distribution of housing as a resource being caused by bricks and mortar as an investment. One effect is the unsustainable level of under-occupancy as those with the money use it to maximise their living space and its value to cash in when needs must.

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