How can London grow affordably and at speed?

For anybody following the UK news, this comes as no surprise: London is facing a major housing crisis.

London’s population growth has accelerated to an extent much greater than anticipated. A year ago, London’s population surpassed its 1939 peak of 8.6 million and latest predictions foresee London’s population grow to well over 10 million by 2035. While this creates a lot of opportunities, it also brings major challenges. Where will the growing families and new arrivers find homes and, more importantly, how will they be able to afford it?

Over the past few months, Buro Happold has undertaken some internal research to provide some analysis and an attempt to answer the following key questions:

Availability – Where is there land available?

Official estimates assume the need to build 49,000 homes a year over the next twenty years. With local authorities reducing or abandoning their housebuilding activities since the early 1990s, the private sector and housing associations have not managed to build more than 20,000 per year on average. While net increase is higher due to accelerated conversions and fewer demolitions, it remains far below the required homes for the coming years. Several reasons have been voiced to explain this, from land speculation, to a skill shortage, to the high risk of the planning process, to constraints such as land covered by Green Belt or conservation areas. Buro Happold has undertaken a spatial analysis to understand where land is available and prioritized the available land based on its accessibility to jobs and affordability.

Connectivity – How can additional land be unlocked for development?

One way of unlocking additional land for development is creating connectivity by making currently remote areas of land more accessible to jobs, schools, and hospitals. Buro Happold has engaged in two areas of study to enhance connectivity within London. Cross City Connect is our proposition to better link the future High Speed 2 rail line with existing links within London. This will not only help regenerate sites in West and Central London, but also allow unlocking of sites for development in East London. The East is also the focus of the work we have undertaken in collaboration with our colleagues at Sir Terry Farrell and Partners. We are advocating the case of low-level bridges across the River Thames in East London, arguing that building local connections (in comparison to strategic transport links such as high level bridges or tunnels) will help to unlock development and create communities as was the case when bridges were built in West London more than a century ago.

Affordability – How can affordable housing be delivered and remain affordable?

Land availability is only one side of the coin. The numbers show that around seventy percent of the forecast number of homes required need to be affordable for low and middle income households. The current housing market is far away from being able to provide this and market forces are driving costs even higher. Buro Happold is supportive of the idea of public-private partnerships that could work as new ways of governing housing provision and provide affordable housing. These range from leasing public land to developers at a low or nominal cost for a period of time to creation of public-private joint ventures for developing housing. Independently from the specific governance model applied, it seems clear that the government needs to play a more active role in designating land and de-risking the planning process for the provision of affordable housing. And then it needs to work to engage the billions of pounds of private sector money available for investing in secure, long-term and moderate growth business markets.

Capacity – How can adequate volumes of housing be delivered in time?

To solve the housing crisis, the housing not only needs to be affordable, but also built at much higher volumes in less time. The construction industry is currently not able to provide the required volumes. Buro Happpold has thus de-dusted the modular housing approach and demonstrate how, through the use of computational design and a revised approach to prefabrication that challenges some of the current conventions, quality homes can be delivered faster and at higher volumes.

Buro Happold recently shared its thinking with members of the GLA and TfL and in hosted event last Tuesday (Feb 9th) to share our research more widely. With another event in collaboration with Farrells on Wednesday, February 24th at The Shard, 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG to share our findings more widely.

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