High-density living ‘not unpopular', London Assembly told

Jim Dunton

Lin Cousins, of consultancy Three Dragons

But inquiry hears new high-rise development is not viable everywhere in the capital

A London Assembly inquiry on increasing housing density has been told that there is little evidence schemes that pack residents together tightly are unpopular with occupants.

But the session heard that higher-density development was unlikely to be delivered in new towers all over the capital because they were too expensive.

The inquiry, held by the assembly’s Planning Committee, sought to examine ways that the next London Plan – due to be published in draft form this autumn – could help the capital meet its housing needs by increasing density.

Planning consultant Lin Cousins, whose Three Dragons firm has reported on the issue to the Greater London Authority, said research indicated that residents living in higher-density developments were generally satisfied with their situation.

“We didn’t pick up anything from the survey of residents, nor from the management agents, that people were living in these buildings because they had no other option,” she said.

“It’s reasonable to say that there are groups of people – not necessarily everyone – but there are groups of people who are reasonably happy living in high-density developments.

“One of the interesting findings is that the kind of courtyard development, of quite high densities in tall blocks, seemed to work well for affordable housing for families, but I wouldn’t want to give the impression that is the only solution.”

Cousins stressed that while high-density was not the same as high rise, there was some evidence that people living in tower blocks preferred to be on higher floors.

Cousins said her consultancy’s research had not identified  one particular type of building that worked better than others for delivering high-density schemes.

However she said towers were only viable in parts of the capital that had high enough market values.

“I wouldn’t anticipate [them] being something you see in every part of the capital, because the economics don’t work,” she said.

Architect Crispin Kelly, of developer Baylight, said the tall buildings always provoked “a lot of opposition from local people” and that the quality of the architecture was not a significant factor.

“Suggesting a new tower is not going to be popular, and it’s going to be many decades before people think new clusters of towers were a good idea – if it turns out to have been a good idea,” he said.

“People are not that bothered about whether it’s a good design or a bad design.

“It doesn’t make that much difference when it’s 20 storeys high and there’s nothing there at the moment.”

Kelly suggested the capital could increase the quantity and density of new homes by changing the rules on affordable-housing liability.

He said the current 10-unit threshold made nine units a standard quantity that developers sought to deliver, and that raising the level even to 12 would significantly impact housing delivery.

Kelly also suggested that developers should be encouraged to speculatively apply for planning permission to deliver infill-housing on council-owned land, which authorities would then be required to sell on if the plans were approved.

Supporting evidence to the Planning Committee session said that while London’s average population density was 55 people a hectare, it varied “considerably” across boroughs.

It said that while there were fewer than two residents per hectare in some parts of Bromley, Westminster had more than 277 residents per hectare.

 

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