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London could add significant numbers of new homes by making better use of land

City Hall and local authorities could support a new wave of housebuilding if they focus on making better use of land by supporting a programme of housing densification, new research from London First and Savills has found.

The report, Redefining Density, says London is actually not a dense city compared with the centres of other major cities such as Paris and Madrid. It says that leaving aside areas of green space, the Green Belt and water, there are many parts of London that have good transport links but low housing density.

If those well-connected areas with a low housing density were to match the density of similarly connected but higher density areas this would notionally create approximately 1.4 million new homes across London. This is around one million more than the current 10-year London Plan housebuilding target. A map of those areas with low density but good transport connections is below. The majority of the opportunity is in outer London.

The report makes clear that the 1.4m calculation does not take into account actual local circumstances, such as the urban realm (including local infrastructure) and whether, or how, new homes might be built. It is ultimately down to the market and the planning system to assess this.

However, it highlights the extent to which there is the potential to make better use of land in London by moderately increasing housing densities in well-connected areas. If housebuilding could be expanded to build just a tenth of these one million additional homes over the next 10 years, then London would be able to increase its housebuilding target to 52,000 new homes a year. At this level, delivery would be closely aligned with the actual need for new homes.

The report argues that:

  • There are opportunities to make better use of land through densification in town centres, parts of suburbia and on some public land.
  • Concerns over higher density development are often an understandable legacy of past mistakes in urban regeneration, where monolithic tower blocks were built unsympathetically within their surroundings. Yet higher density does not have to mean high-rise: indeed tower blocks surrounded by sterile empty space can be lower density than Victorian terraced housing.
  • The issue is how London can use land more efficiently to build more and better homes; and the quality of design is clearly central to this. Design, in its broadest sense, must therefore take the lead to support the more intensive use of land.
  • Higher density areas also deliver many benefits to local residents, by creating the critical mass to support more shops, better and more diverse local services, and improved social and transport infrastructure.

Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, says:

“London is in the midst of a housing crisis and the business community believes housing costs are a major threat to the capital’s international competitiveness. We need London’s planning policies to give strategic support to building at a higher density, while being clear that the density of any particular development must be appropriate for its location.

Susan Emmett, Director, Residential Research, at Savills, said:

“The opportunities to ensure that London is getting the most out of the development process are considerable, especially in the outer boroughs. Done properly, a higher density environment which combines a greater number of homes with shops, services and leisure space can bring many benefits to residents.”

density-map

Methodology:

  • Average densities have been calculated based on transport connectivity, which is banded across the capital from high to low using Public Transport Accessibility Levels (PTALs).
  • Where an area is low density compared to the average for that band, once green space, Green Belt and rivers, lakes and canals have been excluded, the difference between the average density for that band and the existing density in the area has been calculated.
  • The difference between these two numbers for each area across the capital adds up to the total number of homes shown.

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