ASH Presentation to the Architectural League of New York (Part One)
London is experiencing a housing crisis, unprecedented in its severity, whose solution demands taking tough decisions. An already densely populated island is predicted to see a major increase in population, and nowhere more so than in its capital. An influx of migrants and refugees will push Greater London’s population up from its current peak of 8.6 million to approaching 10 million by 2020. Land in London is scarce and correspondingly some of the most expensive in the world. The building industry is ready to take up the challenge and build the homes that Londoners need. But they need land.
Although large in expanse, London housing is low in density. Following the population decline in the 1950s and 60s, poorly designed Brutalist council estates were hastily erected across the city, replacing London’s traditional terraces with high-rise but low-density tower blocks. However, intrinsic design flaws and poor build standards have inevitably given rise to anti-social behaviour, crime, drug dealing and even rioting.
But there is a solution. Independent think-tanks have all arrived at the same conclusion: that here, on these sink estates, lies the brownfield land developers need to meet London’s housing demands. In place of housing estates come to the end of their life span we need to build new city villages. In place of high-rise and low-density we need to build medium-rise high-density housing on London’s traditional street plan. In place of hastily erected, pre-fabricated concrete blocks we need to build high-quality, low-energy homes that will last for generations.
Under central government cuts necessitated by a program of fiscal austerity, local authorities are working to get the best deal for existing residents, while at the same time building the homes that that will enable a new generation of Londoners to get onto the city’s property ladder. In close consultation with estate communities, the architectural profession is already designing homes to the highest standard. And the architectural press, vigilant to the ethical dimension of the profession, is reporting on London’s transition to a fairer, more inclusive, less segregated, more multicultural city of mixed communities, while celebrating the emergence of a new London vernacular in architecture.
According to the National Centre for Social Research, 86 per cent of the British population wants to own their own home. To this end, the government has promised a multi-billion pound investment programme to build up to 50 per cent affordable housing on every new development; and the London Mayor has committed to building 50,000 new homes a year for the next five years, doubling the current rate of completion. Backed by the foreign investment a post-Brexit UK needs to be competitive, the private sector will create the new communities London needs to thrive in the Twenty-first Century. By cutting through the red tape of bureaucratic planning requirements, the Government’s Housing and Planning Act is the first step towards this vision of a new London. In this historic undertaking, the architectural profession is ready to take a leading role.
This – more or less – is the narrative to which every politician, councillor, builder, property developer, housing association, marketing consultant, real estate agent, academic, journalist and architect in London has subscribed and repeats pretty much verbatim and certainly ad infinitum. The truth, however, is something very different. Here are fifteen truths about London’s so-called housing crisis.