Saturday, February 20, 2021

Strong suburbs; from redevelopment or sub-divisions?

Policy Exchange do not invite comments on their publications. The think tank just assumes that most if not all its recommendations will be picked up by a Conservative Government.  Their housing and planning researcher is installed in No10 and this latest report is endorsed by Mr Jenrick the Sec of State if only as 'continuing a conversation'.   It would be wrong to attempt a summary of the 75 report that can be found at 2021 .  One criticism is that it goes into too much detail, but this might be because it is so close to a Government  that likes the phrase if not the reality (see Brexit and social care) of 'oven ready'.  It is also based on so many assumptions that the detail covers the bases and amounts to an 'all or nothing' proposal.

Briefly, the idea is to meet housing needs through gentle intensification of suburban post 1918 housing, based on 'street votes' where a majority of residents (owners and renters) support the idea of redevelopment at much high densities.  The claim is that new floorspace the  equivalent of 40m new dwellings could be built  and, "... the average participating homeowner would make £900,000, while the local authority would get an average of £79,000 for every new property delivered". The authors include net zero requirements for the new housing, suggest car clubs to meet the increased demand with no increase in parking, net biodiversity gain, custom -building and support for SMEs, and the use of Modern Methods of Construction -What's not to like!? Whilst the proposals might fit within the 'Renewal Areas' proposed in the Planning for the Future White Paper, the authors explain that new legislation is not required (Local or Neighbourhood Development Orders might suffice).

Tenants would be given a generous pay-off, but it was unclear whether there would be any rental properties at social rents being provided.  The steep decline in home ownership was a justification for the proposal so maybe not?  Given the timing of the publication, it was surprising not to find how Working from Home was to be worked in (eg offices and workshops woven into the schemes). The garden areas would be protected and overshadowing strictly controlled but there would be many fewer household having access to a garden (there could be roof gardens on some mansion blocks).

The main issue relates to the construction carbon. Reference to the UK Green Buildings Council framework and acknowledgement that construction carbon can be half the lifetime emissions (but occurring in the critical short term) does not mean that the scale of rebuilding being proposed could meet housing needs within carbon budgets.  Recycling materials and offsetting is unlikely to be good enough. The report refers to more ambitious 'housing need targets' without understanding that 'need' is a measure and not a target. There are currently about 1m more dwellings (28m) than households (27m) and about half the existing residential space is not meeting genuine housing needs.  This is a platform from which to build a programme of green sub-divisions and not for large scale rebuilding. The need is for a fairer distribution of the housing fabric and space and for this to be affordable (including fuel/running costs). 

The 'street vote' gentle densification scheme could be worth a try and, importantly, is an example of a proposal as radical as relying on residential sub-divisions and comes from a very influential think tank. When, as it must be, priority is given to carbon budgets (without relying on offsets), sub-divisions (including custom-splitting) would seem to be preferable.  Could Policy Exchange explore how this could become part of the conversation with the Sec of State?

No comments:

Post a Comment