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Architecture Tomorrow - Housing

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With Architecture Tomorrow now open for entries, architect-developer Crispin Kelly kicks off AJ’s expert viewpoint series, arguing in favour of community-led housing plans.

I’m alright Jack’ has been the standard position for homeowners in Britain for many years. As members of the incumbents’ club, there has been little incentive for them to address the critical shortage of new houses.

This is now changing. Attending a neighbourhood plan sub-committee meeting in a small village in Essex last week, I heard local residents thinking about their own future.  They might own a house, but what about their children? How could the units on the local industrial estate flourish if there were no new homes for families trying to move into the area, with existing four-bedroom homes being hung onto by retired couples?

Nimbys understandably feel that the system has been against them. Strategic land buyers option all the fields around their village. After grinding slowly through the local plan process, some sites get allocated and a volume housebuilder turns up to do its business. This is a top-down system which ignores and alienates the local community. Development is a fight.

The Localism Act has offered a new way for communities to plan for their own future. Many neighbourhood plans are getting under way, with a sense of common involvement in carrying out surveys and gathering local evidence.  This plan-making process culminates in a referendum, reflecting the will of the people who will be affected by future development.

Nimbys need to become Yimbys, and merely taking part in planmaking is not enough

There is clearly much that local architects and consultants can do to help with this plan-making, with some seed funding available through the My Community website to pay fees.  Your community needs your skills.  Where, what, how many?  The challenge might be a tower, almshouses, a mansion block or a shed. Making neighbourhood plans is only the first step in changing the way housing should be delivered in the future. Nimbys need to become  Yimbys, and merely taking part in plan-making is not enough. Instead of having housing foisted upon them, it is now time for neighbourhoods to get on with developing housing themselves.

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are a good vehicle for neighbourhood plan policies to be delivered.  A CLT can agree with the owners of allocated sites to buy their land on a deferred basis and at a discount to reflect the community’s decision to allocate only land which can be bought cheaply. Out of every 12 homes built by a CLT,  about seven will need to be sold to pay for the land and construction costs, with the balance owned debt-free by the community.

The future of our housing should be about people as well as homes. So, in preparing their plans, neighbourhoods should also be thinking about compiling a register of needs. People who address these needs and help neighbourhoods flourish could then be invited to occupy these new homes, now owned by the community. Care assistants, handymen, artists, teachers.

The future of our housing is the future of our communities and should be devised and part-owned by small towns and villages up and down the country: the growth should be theirs. Architects and developers have a new opportunity to enable this by advocating a new model of housing production.  The traditional top-down way of making new housing has always been in conflict with the demands of that hackneyed phrase, ‘place-making’. A new model of communities making their own housing gives priority to people and their needs, rather than the abstraction of place.

  • Crispin Kelly is an architect and founder of development company Baylight

Submit your projects for Architecture Tomorrow viahttp://at.architectsjournal.co.uk/. The deadline for entries is 12 June.

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