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Replace 'ugly' tower blocks with streets, argues think-tank report


A right-wing think-tank has proposed replacing all, high-rise social housing tower blocks with terraced streets

According to the Create Streets report by Policy Exchange, flattening multistorey social housing from our cities would improve the lives of thousands of people and increase housing supply.

The organisation – started by planning minister Nick Boles 10 years ago – argued tower blocks were deeply disliked by society and linked to higher crime rates and lower educational outcomes.

Failed estates highlighted in the report included Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens, Park Hill in Sheffield and Ronan Point.

The survey found that 89 per cent of respondents would prefer to live in a house on a street. According to the Policy Exchange document, nobody wanted a home in high-rise social housing blocks.

The research also argued that residents in post-war developments suffered from increased stress, mental health difficulties and marriage breakdowns.

It comes as many housing estates in Britain approach the point where refurbishment or redevelopment is required.

Policy Exchange said the current method of demolishing these structures and rebuilding them with higher densities was simply ‘repeating the errors of the past’.

Pointing to the growing housing crisis which saw London start just 16,000 new homes in the past twelve months, the right-wing lobbying group argued building terraced houses around ‘real streets’ would be cheaper, more popular and better for society.

It claimed wiping the ‘ugly’ towers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s which ‘scar the capital’s skyline’ would allow the mayor to build an additional 260,000 new over the next seven years. This is because the density of terraced streets can be as high as 200 units per hectare, it said.

Policy Exchange said tall buildings were more expensive to build and maintain with a ten-story structure 10 per cent more costly that one with five floors and a fifty-storey building 60 per cent more expensive.

Focussing on London, it recommended a mayoral commission to investigate how many homes more could be achieved through a transition of these sites back to terraced streets.

It also said the London plan should abandon ‘super high density targets’ and adopt a policy so all large scale estate redevelopments must be approved by local referendums.

It also called on London mayor Boris Johnson to axe current building regulations which hamper the development of ‘conventional terraced houses and attractive streetscapes.’

The RIBA said it was ‘simplistic’ to suggest housing design was to blame for social problems highlighted in the report.

Policy manager Rebecca Roberts-Hughes said:  ‘Quality design is the most important aspect when it comes to homes of the future, our research has shown that people want space, light and privacy. We believe there are more than just a few types of buildings that can achieve this.’

She added: ‘Decisions on high rise developments and their future should be made at a local level and include the existing population. We would not advocate the demolition of all existing high rise residential buildings, especially in a time and of housing need and where existing communities may be flourishing.’

There are around 25 tower schemes with residential elements currently under construction in London and, a further 78 similar apartment towers, which have consent but are yet to start on site.

Tall buildings featuring only social housing are less common today than they were during the post-war building boom.

Most private sector-led inner city regeneration schemes introduce new homes sold or rented at market rate to balance the books. Some buildings are ‘mixed-tenure’ or ‘tenure blind’ to avoid stigmatizing residents.

Last week, Make won planning permission to redevelop the Heygate social housing estate in Elephant and Castle with 2,500 new homes. The masterplan features a swathe of high rise buildings and will be 25 per cent affordable housing.

Questions have recently been raised over the placing of tall buildings in the capital after a helicopter tragically crashed into a crane on Broadway Malyan’s Vauxhall tower, killing two people and injuring others.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Did the survey show people what 200 units per hectare looks like?

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  • My calculator tells me that equates to 50m2/plot including gardens and roads. Interesting!

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  • John Kellett

    "The survey found that 89 per cent of respondents would prefer to live in a house on a street".
    I suspect a similar proportion of 'respondents' would prefer to have a better car/appearance/phone etc!

    "According to the Policy Exchange document, nobody wanted a home in high-rise social housing blocks."
    Nobody 'wants' to live in social housing, it's physical form is immaterial!

    Take one 'ugly' tower block, clean it, repair it, renovate/update the internal layout, put newer faster lifts, have a concierge and better security, don't fill apartments with large families and all of a sudden the building becomes 'desirable'. A more cost effective and sustainable answer to the 'problem'.

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  • Hundreds of thousands of adaptable, repairable houses were swept away, neighbourhoods destroyed and communities broken up for short-term profit, political and architectural ideology. It will be interesting to see how many tower blocks will survive in the longer term, while the terraced house will go on forever.

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