If we’re ever going to get the homes we need, rural nimbys are just going to have to accept some development – maybe even a new next-door neighbour…
Clearly we haven’t got enough houses. The general consensus seems to be that we need to find a few places we can put lots more houses in. Mightn’t it be more effective to find lots and lots of places and build a few houses in each? As long as there are enough houses available, who lives where will eventually sort itself out.
For a number of years, I found myself struggling to obtain consent to turn 100m2 of abandoned pig sty in Berkshire into a dwelling. It made a change from some of the housing I did when I was younger, where the tenants’ ambitions seemed to be exactly the opposite.
In this instance, it was quite obvious that what was required was a house – six had already been formed out of the derelict barns and outbuildings adjacent and the pig sty was on a piece of land not much bigger than a tennis court.
Unfortunately, the council had decided there had to be agrarian use so it was appeal after appeal after appeal until my client gave up. Someone will build a house there eventually, but probably not until they have got permission for a chicken hatchery and all the neighbours have complained or a mushroom farm has proved commercially non-viable. The site with planning consent would probably only have been worth £400k, so obviously nobody would want to live there.
In an urban context, I have obtained consent to subdivide any number of large buildings into smaller dwellings, to build houses on tight brownfield sites, to form a new self-contained dwelling on what had been a flat roof, or to build a house in what had been part of a private garden.
The more restricted the site, the more difficult it is to come up with a solution that complies. A difficult design problem requires a good designer. Not enough housing involves good designers. A good deal of mass housing seems to barely involve designers at all.
In an urban setting, the proposition is usually ‘you will be allowed to build so long as …’ In a rural setting, it is ‘you will never be allowed to build here’
In an urban setting, the proposition is usually “you will be allowed to build a dwelling in a residential area so long as …” And then there are hundreds of hurdles to jump – privacy, daylight, amenity, traffic. Deal with these and development will be allowed. In a rural setting the proposition is, “you will never be allowed to build a new house here”. This holds, even though in decades gone by there may have been five times the number of people living on that site. It would be interesting to establish just how many occupiers of remote dwellings would agree to accommodate another dwelling in the immediate vicinity of their own house.
As the applicant is the person who is opting to furnish themselves with a neighbour, they will have the biggest interest in making sure their own amenity is protected while also ensuring that the proposed dwelling is as attractive as possible so as to maximise the commercial gain. A proposition for development in the Countryside that said “if there is already one dwelling, one other dwelling might be allowed”, could yield a quarter of a million homes without the government having to do anything at all.
Planning seems to be in virtual meltdown and key performance indicators are making things worse. I’d like to see the planning fee increased to somewhere near what building control fees are. This would give planners more of a chance, it would signal the value of good design and it would encourage developers to employ better designers. It would also reflect much more clearly the financial value of a successful consent.
The sell-off of council housing has abetted the polarisation of society that we read so much about, particularly as much of the remaining council stock has effectively become benefit housing. Until there is an increase in the availability of rental property to match what has been lost, this state of affairs will continue. In the meantime, the title council housing has become pejorative in a way that it was not before.
The 2007 Housing Design Awards (20 July, page 46) show that the architectural quality of inner-city housing is improving and it is interesting to see the unlikely combination of Sir Richard MacCormac and Wimpey working on a proposition to develop suburban dwellings at three times the usual density using a third of the tarmac. This seems to be a way forward in both sectors.
Meanwhile, Dr Foster continues to go to Gloucester and step in puddles right up to his middle, so perhaps the most confidence-inspiring name for a new swath of ill-considered housing might not be Thames Gateway …
Gus Alexander runs his own architectural practice in Clerkenwell, London