New London Architecture: New Ideas for London Housing

What idea(s) would you propose to improve the speed, scale and quality of London’s housing supply?


Green Urban Spaces

The affordable crisis - Our proposal addresses the issue of housing affordability as the key challenge faced by London. This is the result of a drastic shortage of supply caused not primarily by an under-availability of suitable land or a shortage of construction resource or skills, but by the over-reliance on the private sector to deliver the quantity, type and tenure of housing that London’s population needs.

We propose meeting the demand by establishing new Green Urban Centres as part of a densified, multi-nuclei Greater London to be delivered by a newly commissioned Social Enterprise Development Vehicle (SEDV) that will retain a long-term vision and commitment to supply, quality and affordability.

The 'whole-life' neighbourhood - London has become a city affordable for the few. Our proposal focuses on broadening the affordability of housing, regarding home ownership as an important foundation for family life, stronger community interaction and shared responsibility for the local environment.

The proposed Green Urban Centres, in all aspects of design, will be aimed at establishing neighbourhoods for whole-life. They will accommodate a mix of lifestyles and life-stages, minimising single-demographic regions of London by creating the mix of use, sense of place and adaptability that will encourage people to stay.

The aim is to deliver a new form of urban living that provides a desirable option for those that can no longer afford zone 1-3 living and that responds to a generation of people who live and work in new ways, enjoy walking and cycling and believe urban living can be a little different to the status-quo.

The social enterprise development vehicle - Delivering these neighbourhoods requires a business plan that looks forward several generations and is thus fundamentally unsuited to traditional development models that are focussed on short-term investment returns.

We propose increasing public sector involvement by establishing a Social Enterprise Development Vehicle, perhaps led by a third sector organisation, which will limit profiteering in favour of the sustainable and affordable long-term growth. The SEDV will use seed capital to secure land and meet upfront infrastructure requirements in exchange for an equity stake. Additional seed capital might be provided by long-term investors such as pension funds seeking a steady, safe return.

The social enterprise will retain overall control of the masterplan, its design, mix of uses and viability with some elements being delivered via partnerships with, or sale to, private enterprise and some elements being delivered directly by the SEDV as developer. The governance and control over third party delivery could be implemented via long leasehold rather than freehold disposals with appropriate covenants put in place.

This approach will allow the uplift in land value arising from change of use and a proportion of normal development profits to be retained by the SEDV for re-investment, targeted at affordable housing. In the longer term, yields on the retained portfolio combined with ground rent investments would be used to sustain dividend pay-outs to equity holders and repay long-term borrowings.

We would envisage traditional planning rules being relaxed on the basis of a clear business plan and design code, permitting delivery to be light-footed in response to market needs. The long-term vision and investment by the SEDV will provide increased certainty to SMEs, enabling them to invest and compete and alleviate pressure on the resource of top contractors and primary supply chain members.

The spaces in-between - With ‘developer-safe’ zones around existing transport nodes or significant destinations (such as the London Olympics site) already experiencing intensification, we propose looking at the outer zones of Greater London and to the ‘spaces in-between’.

The large brownfield and low-grade, urban-locked greenbelt sites in these areas present an opportunity to deliver a significant number of homes, an opportunity that will be lost to the next generation as the division of land ownership gradually increases and urban sprawl continues on a plot-by-plot basis.

With predominantly single ownership and only small-scale, potentially light-touch, transport infrastructure required to connect to nearby established urban centres, these sites present an opportunity for the scale and speed of delivery required to meet the housing demand.

The indicative area we have identified has the capacity to deliver over 100,000 homes, a scale of development equal to ten times the London 2012 Olympic Development. By overlaying a clock-dial onto a map of Greater London the site sits within the 1-2 o’clock region. Duplicating this on similar sites in the 12 hour segments of London’s periphery enables the delivery of over 1 million homes with associated infrastructure and amenity.

The Green Urban Centres - The Green Urban Centres that we propose for these ‘in-between’ sites will offer a new type of development typology more similar in density to zone 1 and 2, redefining the city periphery from low-density, mono-functional urban sprawl to mid-density (5-8 storey), live-work-leisure City Edge.

This avoids the traditional concentric urban model that transitions from a desirable multi-use centre to a mono-use residential periphery, with the latter threatening the high-grade greenbelt. By redefining these edge sites to accommodate more, a stronger relationship is created to a better defined, better protected greenbelt and London is established as a multi-nuclei networked city.

The character of these places will extend dynamic, mixed-use city living to more areas of Greater London in a development typology that offers a highly sustainable, less car-reliant community where the spaces in between buildings become socially dynamic places set within mature landscape.

The Green Urban Centres concept builds on the Urban Villages initiative of the late-90s but with the requirement for delivery by a SEDV with a long-term vision to prevent the miss-interpretation and watered-down versions that diminished the original concept. The design language will avoid the pastiche in favour of a new architecture and unique identity that reflects London’s diversity.

The Green Urban Centres are a bold vision for meeting demand in a relatively short 20-year time-frame, easing the pressures resulting from traditional concentric urban growth and providing London with an exciting option for urban living that everyone can afford.