Small Site Solutions for London’s Housing Shortage

19/12/2018

London’s population has grown exponentially during the last three decades and by 7.5% in the last three years.  It is set to rise to 10.2M by 2036.

This demand equates to a need to provide at least 66,000 new homes per year over the next 10 years.

Approximatly 40% of these will be built on small sites, below the area threshold of 0.25 hectares.  Development of these small sites with a capacity of 1-25 new homes will substantially contribute to the new housing supply across the city.

Below we look at the impact of 2017 The Draft London Plan and The London Mayors new Housing Strategy.  We go on to explain why these commendable and ambitious frameworks will enable and support collaboration between planners, house-builders and architects.

We also look at how Boroughs will need to acknowledge and endorse the advantages of small housing developments within their local development plans and specific planning decisions and how this type of ‘micro’ development can be accommodated in different locations and with varying densities and dwelling types.

10 Year Housing Targets by Borough. Large Sites Black + Small Sites Orange

There have been many previous studies that have looked at how much land might be available from smaller sites throughout London. The SHLAA (Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment) is the latest analysis and is based on a statistical analysis of the likelihood of small sites becoming available rather than a detailed review based on an analysis of hard facts.  Authors note: (3D Google Earth should surely be an aid to measuring and identifying such sites in 2018).

In 1998 The Friends of the Earth commissioned a study “Tomorrow a Peaceful Path to Urban Reform” which examined how different types of urban patterns could be used to increase urban density.  It also identified that existing residential areas have the capacity for intensification, i.e. the possibility of increasing housing density without increasing the population density.  It cited the following examples.

However there are a unique set of parameters (rules) that need to be addressed to optimize development on small sites so that they benefit the wider community and are not detrimental to residential privacy, designated heritage assets, biodiversity or a safeguarded land use.

At Douglas and King we have a history of delivering housing projects on small sites throughout London.  We became experts at analyzing the suitability of a site, the type of development that might meet with approval with local Planners, and gain consensus from the residents living nearby.

We actively engaged in the process of Pre-Application engagement with local planning authorities to overcome issues that could be detrimental to the Planning outcome, and to establish the exact parameters that would satisfy the local development plan.

We championed what is now cited in the Draft London Plan as future policy, The Presumption in Favour of Small Housing Developments and fought our corner against what was a borough-wide policy, The Presumption Against Approval.

2019. 10 New Homes on a backland site in Barnet.

The Role of Small Sites in Achieving London’s Housing Delivery Targets

Part H2 of the Draft London Plan notes in detail the aspirations of the Mayor’s office for small sites development:

“Small sites should play a much greater role in housing delivery and boroughs should pro-actively support well-designed new homes on small sites through both planning decisions and plan-making in order to:

The Mayor’s Office recommends that London Boroughs should ‘recognise in their Development Plans and planning decisions that local character evolves over time and will need to change in appropriate locations to accommodate additional housing provision and increases in residential density through small housing developments’

The Mayor’s Office recommends that London Boroughs should apply Planning policies In Favour of Sustainable Development of the following small sites (0-25 residential Units):

Ideal plots for these kind of development are those that can be described as anomalies within the ‘Urban Grain’.  By this we mean that a garden may be substantially larger than its neighbours, or of the garden sizes prevalent within the neighbourhood.  Street patterns can also determine or demonstrate these anomalies and these can be researched through consultation with up to date site-specific maps.

At Douglas and King we carefully consider the following issues when we appraise a small residential development site:

There are a number of studies and surveys we carry out to establish the outcomes of the above including, for example, a Visual Impact Study to appraise the development’s impact on neighbouring buildings

The Role Boroughs and Planners Will Play in Appraising Appropriate Small Site Locations

Planning Policy in London will change in response to the Mayor’s aspiration to increase the built density of London’s housing provision. The extent of the proposed changes in density will require Planners and Londoners to accept the fact that significant parts of their built environment will need to evolve in character and form.

The London Plan sets out a framework for good development under the following headings:

SLHAA Assessments show that small sites, subject to revisions in local planning policy with a ‘Presumption in Favour of Development’ will represent 24,573 new home completions per year over 10 years.

Our Ambition to Create Homes that are Truly Representative of the 21st Century

The London Plan’s ambition to create more and better designed homes for Londoners now and in the future is shared by the architectural profession.  We also have ambition to create homes that are truly representative of the 21st century and the diverse needs of their occupants.

Aesthetic prejudice to contemporary architecture often dismisses housing solutions as inappropriate so it is important that architects demonstrate their approach responds to the particular characteristics of a site in a clear and cogent manner, that it is not style-based but rather an authentic response to site-specific conditions and has been conceived to maximise the quality of the environment it will create.

Planning officers should be encouraged to have an open-minded approach and to have a greater understanding of the architectural intention. Planners should accept that there will be changes to street-scapes, building densities and social infrastructure. Planners should dismiss pastiche design that attempts to replicate one or another from a preceding era.  This is unacceptable and undermines both the historical and future legacy of our city. Planners should be pro-active in explaining the benefits of local small developments to their communities. If it is the Architects responsibility to engage with the local community then it is essential that Planners step up their role in communicating the local plan and the message that if it is done well it will be for the greater good.

Let’s not forget the mistakes that have been made and ensure that they are never repeated….