The Mayor of London, with the help of 50 design advocates, is aiming to achieve the right quantity of new housing, at the right quality, in the right places, says Alex Ely
We hear repeatedly about the low quality output of much of our housing design. According to a recent report by University College London for CPRE and the Place Alliance, the design of new housing developments in England is overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’, with less-affluent communities the worst-affected. Plus ça change.
We learn from these reports how the worst new estates lack nearby amenities such as shops, pubs and cafés. They are unconnected to surrounding areas, with few public transport links. They lack green space and playgrounds and do little to encourage cycling and walking. The architecture is standardised and undistinctive, with affordable housing sometimes concentrated together, rather than mixed in with private homes.
Elsewhere, advocates such as Julia Park have highlighted the shocking quality of some housing carried out under permitted development rights, with homes being created as small as 13m². Take away a policy safety net and we damage people’s life chances, compromise their health and wellbeing, and leave a poorer-quality environment. The need for policies to promote good growth by design have not gone away.
This week, as part of the Good Growth by Design programme, the Mayor of London has published the draft Good Quality Housing for all Londoners Supplementary Planning Guidance, which, with the team at City Hall and our consultant team, we have drafted. It sets out how to achieve the right quantity of new housing, at the right quality, in the right places, and sought to address inclusivity and multi-generational needs. It is centred around people and communities and prioritises the health and wellbeing of those living in urban environments.
As well as facing a housing crisis, we face a global climate emergency and therefore another key priority of the guidance is to emphasise the role of sustainability and the circular economy in meeting London’s ambition to be a zero-carbon city by 2050.
The suite of documents aims to bring together and communicate national level regulation and new London Plan housing design policy by establishing a methodology for determining optimum site capacity at both the plan-making and development management levels, guidance on the preparation of design codes for incremental residential intensification of small sites, and a refresh of the London housing design quality standards.
We also took a typological approach that drew upon what is good about London’s existing housing stock while not stifling innovation. A significant number of case studies are used to illustrate the guidance and to showcase sites that the Mayor deems to be exemplary.
The guidance is aimed at landowners, prospective developers, architects and wider design teams, planners and decision-makers across the public, private and community sectors. However, each module will be of greater interest to particular parties. The guidance also hopes to provide local communities with confidence that the Mayor is determined to work with development partners to deliver growth that safeguards amenity and helps ensure that all Londoners have a good quality of life.
Module A: Optimising Site Capacity – A Design-led Approach advocates a design-led methodology for optimising site capacity at the plan-making stage. It is aimed at borough policy officers when calculating capacity on a site and will be particularly useful for site allocations. It sets out an approach to assessing sites’ suitability for development and offers a tool for assessing site capacity.
Module B: Small Sites – Assessing Quality and Preparing Design Codes explores the typical conditions found across London which might be suitable for small site development and offers examples of how a borough could write design codes. It contains two template design codes to support incremental intensification of residential areas. These design codes link to Housing Design – Quality and Standards identified in Module C to ensure the development meets the relevant standards and quality. Case studies of successful small sites development are included in Module D and can be referenced when writing codes as best practice examples.
Module C: Housing Design – Quality and Standards updates the London Housing Design Guide (2010). It is aimed at borough development management officers and developers and their design teams seeking planning permission.
Module D: Housing Design – Case Studies and Appendices is a library of best practice case studies, additional information on the planning process and a glossary of terms used within the Supplementary Planning Guidance.
The guidance will formally be consulted on after the Mayoral election, but it’s never too soon to enact its recommendations. If we recognise that, as Confucius said, ‘the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home’ – then the time to raise the quality of our housing design has never been more pressing.
Alex Ely is a founding director of Mae and a Mayor’s Design Advocate