Solv­ing the hous­ing puz­zle

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

We are liv­ing in in­ter­est­ing times, but nei­ther Brexit nor US pol­i­tics should dis­tract us from Bri­tain’s hous­ing cri­sis. Three new re­ports—two from The Prince of Wales’s Foun­da­tion for the Built en­vi­ron­ment, one from Sav­ills—ought to help in­form gov­ern­ment think­ing.

They ob­serve that the most de­sir­able places to live, judged by prop­erty value, are those with the strong­est iden­tity: ed­in­burgh’s New Town, Kens­ing­ton, Not­ting Hill, Blooms­bury, Glas­gow West end, Bath, Jes­mond, Ox­ford, Cam­bridge and the cathe­dral cities. Places that don’t have as much char­ac­ter are held in poor es­teem by their res­i­dents.

The pat­tern isn’t uni­ver­sal—liver­pool is a city of ar­chi­tec­tural splen­dour with a pop­u­la­tion that re­mains far be­low what it was a gen­er­a­tion ago, but ever more peo­ple crowd into the South-east.

How to cre­ate more Cam­bridges and fewer Swin­dons? The an­swer doesn’t lie in ar­chi­tec­ture so much as ‘place-mak­ing’. A mix of uses, tenures and hous­ing types, good public trans­port, ‘walk­a­bil­ity’, rel­a­tively high den­si­ties to sup­port shops and ser­vices —these prin­ci­ples, listed in The Prince’s Foun­da­tion’s De­liv­er­ing Sus­tain­able Ur­ban­ism, are well known from Pound­bury. More sur­pris­ing is the dis­cov­ery that a sim­i­lar ap­proach has been prac­tised in Glas­gow’s Gor­bals, where the Crown Street project has im­proved vi­a­bil­ity through the in­tro­duc­tion of mar­ket hous­ing.

This is dis­cussed in some de­tail in the foun­da­tion’s other re­port, Valu­ing Sus­tain­able Ur­ban­ism, along with Fair­ford Leys out­side Ayles­bury. Master plan­ning is key; so is the right developer—ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion projects have spawned spe­cial­ist com­pa­nies, with prof­its com­ing from the lift in prop­erty val­ues once a neigh­bour­hood has been iden­ti­fied as a prime place to live.

Tra­di­tional es­tates can also have a role. Vol­ume house-builders want to get in and out: they build, sell and move on. es­tates, how­ever, have ‘longer profit hori­zons’ and know that they have to live with the de­vel­op­ment. For­tu­nately, there is a com­mer­cial ra­tio­nale, since bet­ter place-mak­ing de­liv­ers higher long-term yields, as Sav­ills notes.

But it’s not easy. Lease­hold en­fran­chise­ment law and the Scot­tish Land Re­form Act are bar­ri­ers to new Bel­gravias and Pim­li­cos, although The Prince’s Foun­da­tion notes that ‘10 of 11 projects that are part of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s Sus­tain­able Com­mu­ni­ties ini­tia­tive are be­ing pro­moted by long-term land in­ter­ests, whether public, char­i­ta­ble or fam­ily hold­ings’. The Mo­ray es­tates’ Tor­na­grain, near In­ver­ness (12,000 res­i­den­tial units), is a case in point. Gov­ern­ment must en­cour­age more of the same.

This week, the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects held a world congress by INTBAU (the In­ter­na­tional Net­work For Tra­di­tional Build­ing, Ar­chi­tec­ture and Ur­ban­ism) on ‘To­mor­row’s Cities: Build­ing the Fu­ture’. Cli­mate change, war and a rising pop­u­la­tion mean that mak­ing places is an im­mense global is­sue—africa alone is ex­pected to need 1,000 new cities this cen­tury. If a rich coun­try such as Bri­tain can­not find the way for­ward, how much more dif­fi­cult it will be for poor states.

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