‘It’s not about the best way to deliver new housing; it’s about all the different ways of delivering new housing’ So said Patrick Devlin, partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, and it encapsulated a lot of the thinking and discussion at the conference, ‘On the house – what’s the alternative?’ held at NLA.
That’s because as many different types of housing model as possible need to be embraced if London is to hit its targets, which, according to chair Katy Warrick, head of London Residential Development Research at Savills, is in fact some 96,000 homes per year.
Senior strategy manager for affordable housing at Transport for London Robin Oliver said his employer – essentially ‘a property company’ has a target of starting 10,000 homes by March 2021, 50% of them affordable. ‘The one thing we are certain about is that we need a range of great partners to work with to deliver the programme’, he said, amid the ‘gargantuan task’ of securing planning permissions on both larger sites and the small sites programme. ‘Fundamentally, we want to build more affordable homes’, he said.
The Co-living model will also be important, said Nick Rees, architectural director at The Collective, which is building on the ‘huge success’ of its project at Old Oak to the ‘ultimate aim’ of a global network. Projects on the go include in places like Brooklyn in New York (complete with a microbrewery and food market) as well as closer to home in Earlsfield in 2022 and Hackney Wick in 2021. ‘Attitudes to co-living are shifting radically’, he said, and the focus needs to be on communal spaces in which communities can meet as places like churches and pubs disappear.
Co-housing, meanwhile, is another growth area, but one where sites are hard to come by, said Maria Brenton, founding member of the Older Women’s Co-Housing project in Barnet. ‘The connecting tissue is social connectedness, and that is particularly important in older age’, she said. The planning system, though, is not conducive to self-starting and self-managing communities, said Brenton, with her project having taken some 10 years, and after finding a development partner only after seeing eight others. It chose PTE as architects for its ‘participative philosophy’, and enjoyed the way they were involved in the design. ‘It made us believe that our project was going to happen and gave us investment and ownership in it that we hadn’t had before’. Good design enhances communications and wellbeing, Brenton added, and had proved ‘a very sound investment’, but there was a ‘huge unmet demand’ for this type of housing across the country, with a big education job required and need for authorities to ‘change their mindsets’.
For Naked House co-founder Simon Chouffot, custom build of the kind his firm proposes is another avenue, especially one where affordability issues are acute. ‘We think the idea of a home is not a finished product that you’re spoon-fed but something that adapts over time’, he said. The first scheme is destined for Enfield, with 22 homes over three sites and design work starting in the new year. It has taken nine years but Chouffot commended Enfield for taking ‘a punt’ on a start-up developer, with hopes that this will be rolled out across the borough.
The conference also heard from Roberto Bruni, head of development for place at Tower Hamlets, showing the strides that are being made in temporary housing, notably with schemes like Place Ladywell, which could be moveable to meanwhile sites. Carla Ecola, project director of The Outside Project spoke of the problems experienced by LGBTQ people, specifically those caught up in homelessness, and some of her team’s aims to rectify that. Shelter from the Storm chief executive and co-founder Sheila Scott is in a similar crusade, providing free emergency night shelter for the homeless, whoever they are from wherever they come from. This could be any of you, Scott told the audience, with one of their number being a lawyer – it was important to fight perceptions, particularly those perpetuated by the media. Shelter from the Storm underwent a ‘desperate search’ for new premises, not helped by the fact that no-one wants to live near the homeless or risk their area being ‘infected by poverty’. It found a former supermarket site in north London, working hard to create accommodation of high quality, and with light the metaphor for its ‘transformative’ work.
The Hidden Homeless – those who bed surf and others not accounted for by government statistics – were the concern of Heather Macey, associate at John McAslan + Partners. Homelessness is more than just rooflessness, she said, with its Hidden Homelessness competition won by Morris and Company supplemented by new work being undertaken by the London School of Architecture.
Finally, there was time for more discussion, including from Fore Partnership managing partner, who said there was a growing realisation in the investor world that social impact has to be a part of any investor strategy. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it is economically the expedient thing to do. Matter Architecture associate Lucy Block told the audience her practice is working on research into intergenerational living, drawing on examples from Europe and seeking to demonstrate the social value and benefits of living as a community. And GLA project manager – public land – Maja Luna Jorgensen said that one of the keys was to invest in different sectors. ‘We have a finger in a lot of pies’, she said, ‘because we’re aware we need to have a diverse range of housing provision’.