Rethinking high density housing in London

With a population expected to exceed 10 million by 2036, London faces an exponential demand for housing. If we are to accommodate this growth within London’s boundaries we will have to increase the density at which new housing is built.

While London’s average population density is 55 people a hectare, it varies considerably across London boroughs, from 21 people a hectare in Bromley, to 151 in Islington. At a more local level there are areas of Westminster with more than 277 residents a hectare, whereas there are fewer than 2 residents a hectare in some areas of Bromley.

Constructing more high rise buildings is not the only way to intensify land use, a mix of mid-rise buildings, mansion blocks and terraced housing can be a very efficient use of land. London’s central neighbourhoods like Chelsea, are a good example.

Through a combination of taller buildings, increased density and building innovation, Carter Jonas estimates that around 1.47 million homes could be delivered in the next 20 to 30 years.

In a new report, the property consultancy has outlined a three-pronged approach to address London’s housing crisis in its latest report, entitled ‘Solving London’s Housing Crisis’.

Building up is essential to accommodate more homes in a smaller area and has the potential to deliver 820,000 additional homes. The proportion of residential supply approved through tall building developments has risen from 16% to 42% between 2004 and 2015, demonstrating a clear recognition that this efficient use of land could be instrumental in meeting housing targets.

By increasing the density of development within Housing Zones, Opportunity Areas and Intensification Areas, which cover 15% of the city, there is the scope to support more than 720,000 new homes – double the 360,000 units currently forecast.

London is the greenest city of its size with over a fifth of the capital’s land area classified as Green Belt. The second solution – Build Out – highlights that just a third of the city’s 15,300 acres of ‘non-green’ Green Belt land could accommodate 250,000 homes, at affordable price points. Green Belt boundaries should be reviewed over time by local authorities in line with the current National Planning Policy Framework and the recent Housing White Paper.

Carter Jonas estimates that by employing modern methods of construction to ‘Build Differently’ an extra 397,500 new homes could be delivered each year. Furthermore, if 10% of the 360,000 residential units planned across the Housing Zones, Opportunity Areas and Intensification Areas were developed as smaller high-quality units, then this could allow for up to an additional 36,000 units to be delivered.

Continuation of office to residential conversions offers at least a further 15,000-25,000 new homes, with 16,600 units currently granted planning and in progress (approx. 9m sqft of office space).

Tim Shaw, Head of Development, Carter Jonas, said, “There is not a single panacea that will solve London’s housing crisis, but there is a solution if we adopt an  approach that allows for increased development density, relaxation of the green belt definition and innovation in construction techniques. We estimate that this approach could deliver the 1.5 million new homes London needs by 2050, so whilst the target is clearly very ambitious, it is achievable.

“Naturally there are challenges, not least the materials and workforce needed to deliver a flurry of new high rise developments and the political challenge of reclassifying green belt land.

“What is clear is that we collectively need to embrace change using a targeted, innovative and effective plan – and the Government needs to give us the flexibility to do so. Aspects will be unpopular – the idea of 2,200 new towers won’t be to everyone’s taste – but the situation in London has reached such a critical point that we need to face up to this harsh reality if we are to have any hope of tackling the Capital’s housing needs.”

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