Abridged version of original article "How housing schemes are achieving high densities without tall buildings"
By Mark Wilding, Planning Resource
Link to full article here.
Both the government and mayor of London are keen to see high density housing typologies that extend beyond the tower block.
Speaking in a House of Commons debate last month, planning minister Alok Sharma said: "We want new development to be well-designed, but that does not mean that current space standards are sacrosanct."
In London, the current mayoral housing supplementary planning guidance states that development proposals should "optimise" the housing potential of sites, defining this as "developing land to the fullest amount consistent with all relevant planning objectives". Crucially, that need not mean tower blocks. In November last year, London’s deputy mayor for housing James Murray expanded on this point in an interview with the London Evening Standard.
Towers and high rises are not the only answer. You can actually get very high density with six, eight, ten storeys — like the terraces you see in Kensington.
James Murray, London's deputy mayor for housing
There are planning reasons why these schemes are not always easy to pursue. Graeme Phillips, partner at JTP, works on high density family housing projects. "We often find we’re up against planning policies," he says. "Many authorities still have policies in place which were meant to control a very suburban character of development." Phillips cites minimum distances between dwellings as an example. "It’s a real impediment to creating high density environments," he says.
When considering whether schemes are of sufficiently high density, London planners already need to take into account a range of factors beyond the number of homes per hectare. The London Plan provides a density matrix by which new projects should be judged; taking into account whether a site’s setting is urban, suburban or central and the Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL), a measure produced by mayoral adviser Transport for London. For example, according to the matrix, central sites with the highest PTAL rating can provide up to 400 homes per hectare.
Case study: Newhall, Harlow
The Newhall urban extension in Harlow is planned to comprise close to 2,800 homes. As part of the first phase, Alison Brooks, of Alison Brooks Architects, created a new neighbourhood which received the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize in 2013. Award judges said the project could offer a model for future high-density suburban living.
The first phase of Newhall, comprising close to 500 homes, has now been completed and a second phase of 2,300 homes is underway.
In June 2013, JTP secured planning permission for a 328-home neighbourhood as part of this second phase. Although lower density than some elements of the first phase, the project is still tighter knit than would typically be expected in a low-rise suburban setting – comprising family homes with associated car parking.
Higher density was achieved by tightening up the layout of the houses but providing more amenity space at the first and second floor.
Graeme Phillips, partner at JTP
Graeme describes a "linked-detached" typology where terraced homes are linked by an outside courtyard, which sits above car parking spaces at ground level. "The main volume of the house is perceived almost like a narrow fronted detached house," says Graeme.
Homes were designed to be plotted closely together, with windows positioned to avoid loss of privacy, but negotiations with Harlow Council during the planning process required changes to the layout. "We had originally envisaged they would be used in a higher density arrangement," says Graeme. Nevertheless, the project will achieve an average density of 36 dwellings per hectare, rising to 60 to 70 dwellings per hectare at its highest density. Around 80 per cent of the homes have now been built, with the project due to be completed by the end of the year.
Graeme believes planning officers should be more flexible when it comes to considering privacy in high-density neighbourhoods.
There are good examples now of houses that are laid out in quite compact arrangements, with the homes cleverly designed so privacy is not compromised.
Graeme Phillips, partner at JTP