Making Space: Housing London
So there’s this new idea:
Let’s sort out London’s housing crisis by building on top of existing public service buildings.
At a glance this approach makes a lot of sense- one of the main reasons developers aren’t building millions of places to live in London is because it’s not exactly teaming with free space. And if the public sector is savvy enough- they can get a new building out of it too:
Before I continue and share my opinions that no-one asked for to an internet that couldn’t care; what I like most about this idea is that it came from engineers. Only last week I quoted that engineers needed to take back their role leading the development of our built environment; and this is a perfect example of how we can.
A note to the cynics: I actually work for WSP (there goes my secret identity)- but despite my best attempts to get them to pay millions and buy-out Being Brunel; I remain unpaid. So my opinions remain, as ever, my own.
Why This Is A Good Thing
There’s a target to build 42’000 places to live, per year, to meet demand, and so far only 18’300 have been built.
I like this idea- in fact, I’m one of the 8% of people who wouldn’t mind living above a prison; I mean- do you really think the immediate surroundings of jails are a hot bed for crime?! I expect the jail flats will be cheap and cheerful, however, with higher demand redevelopments such as libraries (wanted by 63%) and admin centres (-44%) providing more luxury options.
Space aside, there’s a synergy (legitimate buzzword usage) when you consider hospitals (staff and more vulnerable individuals), and schools (parents and teachers). Having a school-run that is literally a lift to the ground floor would be a major relief to parents already struggling to balance child-winning and bread-rearing (or whatever) and life in London.
Doing something about London’s rocketing prices is critical; because the current situation is unsustainable. I work in London because it lets me do exactly what I want to be doing. I live outside of London because I can only afford a cardboard box inside it. This means I pay £3000 in travel; which over-inflates my cost as an employee (although I am awesome). Crucially, however, it means that any job outside the city is worth a £3k pay-rise right off-the-bat; which is enough to turn anyone’s head.
If you know something about the way planning permission works for these sort of developments; you’ll also appreciate that exploiting air-rights is an oddly neat solution. Developers are often (correctly, in my liberal opinion) held to ransom by councils; demanding certain allocations of affordable housing, community spaces, facilities, etc. This way the ‘cost of land’ is the upgrade or replacement of buildings for our struggling public sector.
Part of the Solution
Although I like the idea; I have to acknowledge that it doesn’t actually help me. Even if these new developments just flashed into being. This is because I’m entering the buying stage of my life; I want a house (which I’m not alone as seeing as a much better investment). This means that this solution will relive pressures on younger professionals, but is unlikely to stem the flow of older (more experienced) workers being forced out of London- especially as they start to look at starting families.
What I like most about this idea is that it came from engineers.
London has 15% of the population sitting on 1% of the land. There’s a target to build 42’000 places to live, per year, to meet this demand, and so far only 18’300 have been built; a problem exacerbated when you consider that the real number of houses needed is much closer to 48’800. Building above and around renewed public buildings could give us 630’000 places to live over the next decade; enough to meet and (a first for London:) surpass, demand.
Whilst there’s no doubt that we need to find solutions to pack more of us into London- our capital isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of Britain; and arguably a more sustainable solution would be to work harder to improve infrastructure links between cities. If half of the city’s businesses packed up and moved to Milton Keynes (and it’s hard to see why…), we’d immediately double the housing availability in London- if we’ve got the demand, we must be able to better spread the benefits.
Three in five people think that this is a good idea, apparently, so it could well happen. There’s precedent across the 4800km pond in the Beekman Tower (a prestigious skyscraper, which houses a school in its lower floors), and a little closer to home in the Plimsoll Building at Kings Cross, which will include a school for deaf children at its base.