Where’s the land? Addressing the shortfall of housing delivery in the UK
6 March 2019
There’s no hiding behind the fact that the housing market is broken, and the stark reality is that not enough homes are being built across the UK. Recent figures suggest that England has an estimated shortfall of 3.91 million homes, needing 340,000 new homes each year until 2031. Although the housing and affordability crisis is particularly prevalent in London, it is affecting urban centres across the UK, and there is a pressing need to think creatively about how we address this. But the solution is not just about building as many homes as possible (and quickly), it’s about creating sustainable and well-balanced communities with employment opportunities and community facilities that support long-term value.
With recent and impending changes to funding and other regulations giving Councils new powers to deliver the homes needed, the challenge is becoming how to identify areas and land at scalethat can be planned to create new sustainable communities. Scale and density are key — the “10 mins neighbourhood” has resurfaced and more people aspire to “walk-to-work” through urban open spaces and attractive streets in neighbourhoods with mixed uses offering opportunities for socialising and culture.
The Current Approach
Some obvious locations are the current focus of planning and political attention: near new infrastructure, particularly rail and metro / underground stations where improved accessibility can sustain much higher densities; and new settlements or urban extensions, especially those that can support existing towns and city centres and are outside the Green Belt.
Increasingly in London and major towns and cities, the focus has turned to redeveloping industrial and employment land, sometimes with co-location of housing and employment space, often not. Although this can unlock land value uplift to fund delivery, there is increasing evidence that co-location is not a panacea. The lack of space for businesses that serve the London economy has led to unprecedented rises in rents and falls in yields. Key servicing, white collar jobs (over 50% of jobs in employment/industry estates) and distribution are being pushed to peripheral areas, extending delivery and commuting times and increasing traffic movements.
If employment land is released, planning policy needs to be more considered, and take an economic development-led approach and consider factors such as functionality and linkages of the land and premises; functional or clusters; quality of the environment; recent investments in plant and buildings; locations of supply chains; customer base; and the homes of the workforce.
So, what are the answers to addressing the housing shortage whilst ensuring that this is creating balanced, sustainable communities?
We need a fundamental change in mindset amongst professionals working in the built environment and equally a change in perception in society about where and how to deliver new housing. Much more needs to be done to design and deliver attractive new higher density urban quarters within existing urban areas. But a pre-requisite is a political will, both nationally and locally.
We must increase the new homes and quality urban quarters delivered through estate regeneration by turning towards infill development at scale, embedded within urban areas despite the many political and planning challenges. Whilst the focus should be on vacant and underused land that has good access to transport, many of these sites are already earmarked for development or under construction.
We need to plan significantly larger mixed-use areas at much higher densities (that aren’t at the expense of employment areas) to create new ‘smart’ urban quarters. Well-designed infill and major regeneration schemes can not only improve community areas, but they also have the potential to supply many more homes and jobs.
There are major challenges around how we engage with residents and decision makers to identify major urban regeneration areas in towns and cities and how we design and deliver new urban quarters. We need to take a systematic approach to identify possible redevelopment areas, i.e. well-connected, low density, typified by under-investment in buildings, high proportion of transient residents, ageing or failing utilities and services.
Most importantly the public sector needs to have the vision and the political will to take the lead by acquiring major redevelopment sites to ensure delivery. But in doing this, they need to engage with residents and owners from the earliest stages to involve them in the decision making. These new areas should first and foremost seek to meet the aspirations of existing communities, whilst maximising the provision of new homes. They should also offer both the opportunity for small and new developers to create new homes but also for innovative methods of construction to be trialled.
Faster delivery of housing through public sector-led urban redevelopment has to be backed by a fundamental rethink around compulsory purchase and how property owners and residents are compensated and/or rehoused in the new development in ways which do not fragment existing communities. A new people-centred approach will be needed to maximise development potential and create vibrant places within the tired parts of our towns and cities that are attractive to the community, residents and investors alike.
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