Planning matters

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The social impact of the undersupply of housing
The appeal of owning a house remains strong. According to research more than three quarters of under-25s still aspire to own their own home. Yet there exists a massive shortage of houses for us young people to buy.  A shortage of houses means sky high house prices, and a generation of people who feel locked out of the market.The economic benefits of housebuilding are clear - for instance, NLP research demonstrated that the UK housebuilding industry employs over 600,000 people and generates at least £1.4bn in tax revenue. Yet less is made of the more subtle, harder-to-capture social benefits of owning your own home – something which seems increasingly out of reach for my generation.It almost seems too simple to explain the root cause of the housing crisis as simply a case of supply and demand – but in truth it really is. A mixture of increased demand has been combined with a lack of supply to mean that housebuilding has simply not kept pace with demographic and social trends. These forces have combined to drive house prices sky high (over just the ten years between 2001 and 2011 the average price of a home increased from 7.4 times the average salary to 11.1 times).  As a consequence, more and more young people have to enter into the private rental market, and for most owning their own house is an all too distant possibility. Research by the think tank IPPR shows that half of all those renting privately think it will be at least 10 years before they can even think of buying their own home.Some might ask why my generation should even want to buy their own house? Germany is often cited as an example of a well-functioning economy with low rates of home-ownership. Two main reasons exist - first is the economic one. By paying rent to a landlord instead of mortgage repayments, one is essentially losing out on owning a valuable asset. Yet the aspiration to own one’s own house is more than about money. Young people, just as their parents’ generation did, want somewhere that feels like home - a place that we can put our own stamp on, to feel safe and secure in, or a place to start a family. It should come as no surprise that home ownership has been associated with increased life satisfaction, whereas not owning a home has been found to make young people delay achieving major life ambitions – polling shows one in five of those who have never had children said they’re delayed starting a family because they didn’t own their own home.Homeowners are more likely to become more involved in neighborhood groups as a way to establish ties with others and integrate in a new community. Renters who move, however, are less likely to turn to civic participation as a way to build new social network ties. A locked-out generation of young people means an unsettled generation, and an unsettled generation will lead to unsettled communities. IPPR analysis finds that owning a home increases someone's sense of belonging to a neighbourhood as much as simply living there without owning for fourteen years. For example, when controlling for all other variables, an individual who has lived in the same home for 20 years yet does not own it is likely to feel only the same sense of neighbourhood belonging as someone who owns their home but has lived in it for just 6 years.Whilst renting may make sense for those in their early 20s, the UK rental sector is not as secure for those who want a long-term home (in Germany, leases are generally indefinite, and landlords can only evict for specified reasons, whereas in the UK, landlords are generally able to evict tenants with two months’ notice).  Many students, having graduated, are priced out of renting independently (especially in London) so have been forced to live with their parents in order to save even to be able to afford to rent – but this has been shown to arrest development and affect relationships (such as the ability to find a partner)One way the Government is trying to increase the number of young people entering the housing market is through the provision of ‘starter homes’ - sold at 80% of the full market value to first time buyers for the most part under the age of 40 (and as currently proposed, over 23).  Whilst the technical details are yet to be fixed, developers will be able to provide starter homes as part of meeting their overall affordable housing requirement - which some critics have suggested would lead to the continued decline in the overall number of affordable housing units being built.What makes this so frustrating is that the simplest solution to fix the housing crisis – building many more houses in as many tenures as possible – is severely restricted by the political hot potato of protecting the Green Belt. The Green Belt - whilst conjuring up images of pleasant English rolling hills and scenic landscapes - includes land which is covered by airports, quarries, railway embankments and sewage works (oh and golf courses – more land in Surrey is covered by golf courses than housing). It has been claimed that the release of just 3.7% of London’s Green Belt would provide land to build up to a million homes.This crisis will not be solved until politicians not only accept the scale of the crisis but the obvious solution lying under their noses.It should now be obvious that Britain needs to build many more homes. Housebuiliding provide a massive boost to Treasury coffers - housebuilding creates jobs and tax revenues not just directly through construction, but also indirectly through fitting them out them with kitchens, curtains and carpets. Yet even more importantly it is necessary for my generation, which has exactly the same aspirations that my parents had. Building enough houses which people can call home - a place they feel safe in and feel happy to raise a family in - will in turn be good for society as a whole.  

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Thames River Crossings: A vision

Grant Swan 31 Mar 2016
I recently attended a Thames River Crossing event, hosted by The Thames Estuary Partnership, Transport for London (TfL) and National Maritime.  They were showcasing 13 proposed river crossings, including bridges, tunnels and ferries to support growth in London. The presentations from TfL, Farrells and the Port of London Authority (PLA) were broad ranging and featured questions including - “Where are the opportunities?” “What does this mean for shipping?” “Do we need to rethink the way the river serves London?” These are all crucial topics for consideration particularly to ensure sustained economic growth and enable continued housing development in London.All the speakers established that new river crossings are required to support the current population growth in London.  However, what stood out to me was that whilst TfL is considering the imminent ‘need’, has published a “River Crossings Plan” and undertaken long-term work with many stakeholders and expert groups,  there was no consensus on the locations or form of said proposed crossings.It is increasingly recognised that meeting infrastructure needs is vital to delivering housing, particularly as London’s population is due to increase to circa 11 million people by 2050. The Barking Riverside planning permission for 10,800 homes is a prime example of how  proposed river crossings can release otherwise unviable brownfield land in Greater London for housing  - the housing figure for this development is partially based on the London OvergroundeExtension to Thamesmead. Without significant transport improvements, the original masterplan permission in 2007 imposed planning conditions on the site to limit development to only 1,500 units.Existing observed trips in London are higher than forecast in the latest Mayor’s Infrastructure Plan and transport capacity is becoming an increasing concern.  As a starting point, there are a number of initiatives to increase capacityand shift transport mode within existing TfL assets, such as the new superhighway on Vauxhall Bridge.TfL’s Plan “Connecting the Capital” identifies thirteen new locations for river crossings, some of which are in place, while others are long term visions. These crossings fall into four categories, pedestrian/cycleways, passenger ferry opportunities, public transport crossings and highways all in the form of bridges, tunnels or boats: Jubilee Line (public transport) Crossrail 2 (public transport) Nine Elms to Pimlico (footway/cycleway) Garden Bridge (footway/cycleway) Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf (footway/cycleway/passenger ferry) North Greenwich to Isle of Dogs (passenger ferry) Silvertown Tunnel (highway) Charlton (passenger ferry) Crossrail (Public transport) Gallions Reach (highway) Barking Riverside to Thamesmead (public transport) Belvedere (highway) Lower Thames Crossing (highway) although this is outside of the Greater London area) Image: Connecting the Capital Report - TfL However, Farrells architects presented a different view on the location of river crossings.  Their suggested routes were smaller scale, ‘low-level’ bridges, much closer together, with at least five crossings connecting the Isle of Dogs (see below image). They predominantly focused on the growth of communities around low level, more affordable bridges similar to Newcastle’s Millennium Bridge. Farrells’ proposals focused on releasing housing potential and the benefits that better connections bring to local communities (indirectly improving London’s economy). Conversely, TfL concentrated on easing existing capacity and improving the economy, which would indirectly unlock land for future development. Image: Bridging East London Report - Farrells The challenges of shipping were brought into the mix by the final speaker from thePLA. The PLA has no in-principle dispute with river crossings, having supported the Cable Car, the Millennium Bridge and others. In the context of trade and navigation, the Gross Value Added by the port - particularly in East London - is a huge benefit to the local economy supporting approximately 44,000 jobs.  As such, allowing access to large vessels along the river as a public right of way is of the utmost importance for the PLA.It was clear that there is an interesting conundrum – balancing north/ south accessibility and connectivity, with maintaining theeast/ west route along the river.  It must also be considered that, if a bridge is required to be ‘raised’ too often for shipping to pass, then it is not creating a north-south connection as required by the general population.  Unfortunately, the tide has no respect for rush hour and ships are bound by tidal movements. I’m confident that accessibility in all four compass directions is not an insurmountable problem but it was brushed over somewhat by speakers.  Further concerns were voiced from the floor in relation to ‘too many proposals for highways’ when the national planning policy and government agenda clearly promote sustainability and use of public transport - another issue that was not discussed in depth.Perhaps more radical thinking is required, such as that suggested by one audience member – a ‘Thames Barrage’ - producing a large freshwater lake. Although this may be easier for river transport and north-south connectivity, the Environment Agency may have some concerns!  Perhaps we should learn from best practice, in cities such as Rotterdam. So many options to consider….there is no doubt that this issue will move higher and to the forefront of the Government’s London transport agenda in coming months and years.  

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