The population of London has grown enormously since the turn of the century, and the repercussions for residents are clear.
Nicky Gavron, chair of the London Planning Committee, recently cited the need for a quarter of a million new homes over the next few decades in London. What’s more, the mayor has adopted Further Alterations to the London Plan, which means that all boroughs are now required to deliver more housing than required by the 2011 London Plan targets, with significant increases in Hammersmith & Fulham (68%), Haringey (83%), Hounslow (75%) and Sutton (73%), in particular. Meeting these demands will clearly require innovative and radical thinking from all those involved.
The reality is that, as London faces an all-time population high of 8.6 million people, not enough homes are being built to meet the capital’s housing needs. While the revised London Plan means we can expect an increase in development, we are still not on track to build what is needed.
The London housing market therefore needs to assess the different tools available to help meet these staggering housing demands. A greater focus on London’s densification, green-belt reviews (which identify land that makes a limited contribution towards national policy) and expanding outside London will all play a vital role in achieving this goal.
Recent figures released by New London Architecture and GL Hearn have revealed a sharp focus on densification in particular. Of the 263 towers currently planned, approved or under construction in London, 80% are residential - and 62 of the 70 towers currently under construction are residential. Once completed, these buildings could provide approximately 14,800 new homes for London.
Building upwards is certainly an efficient form of development, as it provides more units for every parcel of land. Furthermore, it frees up land for other uses such as open space, business space, schools or shops.
There are, of course, challenges associated with having large numbers of people living densely in concentrated locations. For example, the need for outdoor space and for all-important services is greatly intensified. Any tall building developments will therefore need to consider factors like these very carefully, as the impact on surrounding infrastructure can be significant. The good news is that this sort of thinking is commonplace and the GL Hearn study showed that the vast majority of tall buildings are currently proposed for areas where comprehensive development and infrastructure is being planned in parallel.
London’s ever-increasing population, combined with soaring house prices, highlight the need to find solutions to the housing crisis quickly, and tall buildings/densification is an important tool in the box. However, developers are struggling with the time it takes to finish construction of these towers.
Major tall buildings schemes take on average 8.3 months to navigate the planning system, followed by a further six years to reach completion after permission is granted. For London to capitalise on the potential for tall buildings to increase its housing stock, the planning system will need to be streamlined and speeded up so that construction activity can pick up pace.
Shaun Andrews is head of London strategy at GL Hearn