'London hasn't got a housing crisis, we've got a land crisis':thousands of new homes could be built on the capital's wasted space

Take part in building homes for London by joining our land campaign. We need your help in compiling a list of overlooked spaces in the capital where new homes could be built.

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Homes & Property readers need not sit on their hands in the battle to solve London’s housing shortage. We are asking you to help compile a 21st-century Domesday Book of overlooked spaces in the capital where new homes could be built. Here, New London Architecture chairman Peter Murray tells us London is not overbuilt — we just aren’t being imaginative enough about how we use its wasted space.

Chatting to a member of the Mayor’s housing team at City Hall recently, he said, rather worryingly: “We haven’t got a housing crisis, we’ve got a land crisis.”

Land is London’s most precious asset. Our capital is one of the least dense in Europe yet there is a finite supply of land and we’re surrounded by green belt, which Communities Secretary Sajid Javid says is “absolutely sacrosanct”. So we must make more efficient use of what land there is available.

HOW YOU CAN JOIN OUR LAND CAMPAIGN

Tell us about empty tracts of land you pass, maybe owned by local authorities. Or highlight bits of the green belt that aren’t green at all.

There are brownfield sites in the suburbs and countryside that could be put to better use. If you’ve always wondered why a site hasn’t been built on, send a photo of it, with its address and postcode, to us. We’ll send it all on to City Hall.

Help to deliver the extra homes London so desperately needs by showing where to build them. Send us your pictures!

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When he was Mayor, Boris Johnson set up the London Land Commission with then-Chancellor George Osborne, to compile a register of all publicly owned land and property in London. The resulting website is the nearest we have to a modern Domesday Book, a list of sites owned by the Greater London Authority, Transport for London, the National Health Service, the Metropolitan Police and local authorities.

It is comprehensive but it’s not always clear where, or whether, you can develop this land. James Murray, deputy mayor for housing, regularly jokes that it’s not very helpful as far as housing development is concerned because it includes 10 Downing Street.

At last week’s Big Debate on the new London Plan, Chris Choa, of global design firm AECOM, said the capital needs to develop “in, up and out”.

With London growing at about 70,000 people a year we need to be imaginative in the way we build inside the city and we need more tall buildings. Murray says skyscrapers “have a key role to play…but we need to find out where they work from a design and a viability point of view”.

ADD UPPER FLOORS

As for developing in the centre, the Government has talked for some time about making it easier to add upper floors. An extra two floors on all appropriate properties would provide plenty of new space.

At an NLA seminar I chaired, architect Michael Squire suggested this could be done in large parts of Westminster, 75 per cent of which is conservation area. When the deputy leader of the council, Robert Davis, told him it would not be acceptable, Squire showed him pictures of the numerous buildings his practice had already added to in Westminster without anyone kicking up a fuss. It’s far less controversial than adding basements, and helpful in housing more people.

The recent redevelopment of council estates such as Woodberry Down in Hackney and Kidbrooke Village in Greenwich proves we can rebuild and create many more households on the same amount of land, offering a better quality of life for mixed communities of council house tenants and private home owners, at an affordable price.

DEVELOP BACK GARDENS

One way to provide more housing in the suburbs would be to change rules introduced by the Coalition Government that made it harder to develop back gardens. They called it “garden grabbing”.

Croydon is now allowing this to happen again. It’s a great way of making better use of valuable land and lets householders make a bit of money at the same time. It’s a good way to encourage older people to downsize. They can sell their main house and move into a smaller flat at the bottom of these large gardens where there is access.

It is also important that the Government seriously reviews green belt policies to ensure they are fit for purpose and not just a Nimby charter that constrains London’s ability to house its citizens.

Housing Minister Gavin Barwell is keen to find ways of encouraging more downsizing. As someone whose children have left home, I find it rather insulting that policy seems to focus on older people in terms of sheltered housing and bungalows.

Older Londoners look to a productive, active life in homes that are close to places of culture, entertainment and gyms. That way, they will also stay healthier longer and be less of a burden on the NHS.

JOIN OUR LAND CAMPAIGN
So we are asking Homes & Property readers to contribute to our new Domesday Book for London. Tell us about empty tracts of land you pass, maybe owned by local authorities. Or highlight bits of the green belt that aren’t green at all.

There are brownfield sites in the suburbs and countryside that could be put to better use. If you’ve always wondered why a site hasn’t been built on, send a photo of it, with its address and postcode, to us. We’ll send it all on to City Hall.

Help to deliver the extra homes London so desperately needs by showing where to build them. Send us your pictures!


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