Being forced to live differently during lockdown has prompted many of us to reflect on how we can live better in the future.
How can the vibrancy of towns and cities be brought back without losing the good things lockdown brought like cleaner air, more birdsong, less traffic, cycle friendly streets, neighbourhood solidarity, and less time spent commuting? The price of housing in many cities has driven people further from the centre and resulted in long commutes to work and less time to spend with family and friends in the evening. Many people have discovered they can successfully work from home and want to continue to do so, at least part of the time.
A combination of days in the office and days working from home, known as hybrid working, is being widely adopted. This allows the benefits of office working; face to face meetings, mentoring, the creativity that comes from exchanges between colleagues and the social life that sustains our wellbeing, to be combined with the benefits of working from home. Integrated thinking about where we work, how we travel and where new communities should be planned is needed if we are to avoid perpetuating the poor quality of life many of us have experienced of many over the last decade.
The White Paper proposes to retain Neighbourhood Plans and advocates the production of local design codes and pattern books to encourage ‘gentle densifcation’ of neighbourhoods. These planning tools provide great opportunities for communities to reshape their neighbourhoods and encourage more local living. Not everyone can or wants to work from home; but many people would prefer to work near home if they could, to avoid long commutes. To encourage more local living there is a need to create more space for living and working within neighbourhoods. This may take the form of homes that are easier to work from, co-working spaces, offices, and workshops.
Living locally in accordance with the ’15- minute neighbourhood’ principles also means providing a range of facilities close to where people live. Neighbourhood based community hubs where different service providers rent space could increase local access to essential services and decrease the need to travel beyond a comfortable walk or cycle ride. To make local service centres viable it is likely that densities will need to be higher than those we see in many suburban neighbourhoods today. But less need to travel by car and lower car ownership could free up space within residential areas, allowing new neighbourhoods to be easily built to higher densities and existing neighbourhoods to convert car parking spaces to other uses. Redundant on-plot parking spaces could provide opportunities for extending existing homes and providing workspace. Reducing the number of on street parking spaces could enable more space to be given to pedestrians and cyclists to make active travel safer and more attractive.
Denser residential areas are likely to result in homes with smaller or no private gardens. Neighbourhood plans therefore need to designate sufficient space for public parks, play spaces, allotments and natural greenspace for nature recovery to accommodate the increased recreational need.
- Neighbourhood Plans should be based on the ’15-minute neighbourhood’ principles.
- Local Design Codes and should include mandatory requirements for public realm improvements to promote active travel and deliver a variety of types of high -quality green spaces.
- Local Design Codes and Pattern Books should include guidance for employment and residential buildings including homes that are easy to adapt for working from home.