Benjamin Derbyshire, Managing Partner at HTA Design LLP
The Supurbia study aims to identify how the intensification of suburban London might contribute to an increase in housing supply, promote economic activity, improve local service provision, reduce congestion, improve the quality of life, the choices available and sustainability in the suburbs of the outer Boroughs.
To complement this work, The London Society features a piece in its forthcoming revitalised journal which explores contemporary interpretations of suburban vernacular architecture and I will be leading a tour for the Society in November of existing, new and redeveloped suburbs in south and east London.
The London Housing Strategy acknowledges a shortfall between the present rate of supply (averaging 16,300 homes per year over the last 22 years), the theoretical maximum capacity identified by the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) of 42,000 homes per year and the requirement to meet demand of as much as 50-60,000 homes per year.
The study recognizes the shortfall in supply from identified brownfield sites, infill sites, redeveloped local authority stock and possible urban extensions. It therefore turns its attention to the possibilities inherent in London’s very low density and often under-occupied suburban districts to see how the shortfall may be reduced in the future. It takes as a starting point that London’s huge suburban tract is of variable quality and seeks to identify areas where there is potential for enhanced value through intensification.
I have calculated (on the basis of the 2011 census data) that If just 10% of the semi detached stock of outer London was fully rather than under-occupied it could accommodate 100,000 more people than at present. If the owners of this 10% took up their full entitlement of permitted development rights this could contribute the equivalent of 6,000 homes per year to the housing supply of London. And redevelopment of just 10% of the existing stock of the poorest quality semis at double its current density of only 25 or so homes per hectare could increase supply by a staggering 20,000 new homes each year – a staggering figure.
The objective of the Supurbia project is to build on the inherent quality of the suburbs (individual homes on their own plots with easy access to public and private open space set in a verdant environment) with a set of policies targeted at meeting popular aspirations. The underlying premise being that by offering people choices that are currently denied them, a notoriously static situation might be transformed into a dynamic one.
The project will explore how a programme of urban intensification might trigger changes resulting over time in a much improved fit of population in accommodation; more sustainable, efficient and affordable. Suburban London has huge potential resources that cannot be ignored if we are to deliver a supply of affordable housing in a sustainable environment for Londoners. We hope to tackle the resistance to change that is inherent in suburban areas with an alluring portrayal of future possibilities.
My work on newly built ecologically sensitive and sustainable developments, such as at Hanham Hall in Bristol, shows that to achieve the desired outcomes collaborative arrangements are necessary, enabling residents to share in the benefits of investment in development and supporting infrastructure. The study will explore investment, ownership and governance models that would enable residents to benefit collectively at a variety of different scales; individual plots, combining adjacent ownerships, whole blocks and neighbourhoods.
Collaborative consumption is a tendency for people who can share information easily to share goods and services more readily. It is enabled by the revolution in the smart-phone and the apps that it supports. My theory is that if people have easy enough access to car and energy sharing, they will need a lot less of both to be made available to them. Instead of cars sitting on roads or car parks for large parts of the day, they will be in use, shared. This will make better use of the cars, roads and increasingly scarce resources.
The facts are striking. According to The Centre for London, 75% of people in outer London Boroughs (compared to 50% in inner London) oppose new housing development in their neighbourhoods. Based on the 2011 Census data, 45% of the population in some outer Boroughs inhabit the ubiquitous three bed semi. 60% of households comprise two persons or less, 80% are owner occupiers, 66% own cars, 24% own two or more cars. On a 1.5ha plot I examined as a pilot, I estimated that at present 38 households comprise 110 people including only 18 children, responsible for generating 304 tonnes of CO2 per annum. This pilot demonstrated how a series of changes over time could increase the population to 222 people at the same time as reducing the CO2 generation to zero – a dramatic transformation.
The Supurbia project is a collaboration and I am fortunate to be working with Richard Blakeway, the Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property at the GLA; Yolande Barnes, Director, World Research, Savills; Kathryn Firth, Chief of Design, London Legacy Development Corporation as well as colleagues at HTA Design LLP.