Solving the housing puzzle
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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.