Search

Comment: ‘Why the Swiss Cottage Tower is not the right way for London’

13:00 04 August 2014

Nicholas Boys Smith

Nicholas Boys Smith

Archant

Nicholas Boys Smith is the director of Create Streets, a social enterprise encouraging urban homes in terraced streets not multi-storey buildings.

There has not been such political focus on building new homes since the 1960s when Supermac promised to out-build Labour and Harold Wilson to keep building in the ‘white heat’ of his technological revolution.

This is good. London needs more homes. London house prices rose by 20 per cent in the last 12 months. But it is also risky.

Last time, we got into a government-dominated, political arms race on house-building the quality of our built environment was massacred.

The 1956 Housing Subsidy Act biased the system in favour of multi-storey housing. Flats at fifteen storeys received a government subsidy nearly three a half times the subsidy for a normal house.

The same thing is happening again and it is profoundly important.

Never before have we built at such scale, height and density. 236 towers of at least 20 storeys are being built or have planning permission in London. And Create Street’s analysis of nineteen regeneration and redevelopment sites shows that the typical increase in height is 230 percent and the typical increase in density 170 percent.

Supporters of this second generation of tower blocks (including those supporting the proposed tower at Swiss Cottage which is so unpopular locally) argue ‘we have no choice, we need to build more homes.’ They are right about the housing crisis. They are very wrong about the lack of choice.

We have lots of choices and we are making the wrong ones. A generation ago, so great was the public backlash against the destruction of traditional street-based communities and their decanting into off-street multi-storey horrors that much research was commissioned into what forms of housing were popular and correlated with good social outcomes.

So clear was the evidence, so great the public distaste that the previous revolution of multi-storey housing was stopped in its tracks. These studies have been largely forgotten. More recent ones, which support their findings, are little read.

However, the conclusions are clear. And if we ignore them we are in danger not just of repeating the mistakes of the past but of inflicting misery on future generations.

For the good news is that there is an answer: terraced urban streets with normal houses and low or medium rise flats. In every single piece of evidence, they are infinitely more popular. In the latest national poll, only 3 per cent of us want to live in flats with over 10 units in the buildings. And people are being deeply rational in expressing this view. Controlled studies show that living in big tall buildings is not good for you. The vast majority of studies show that the residents of large multi-storey blocks suffer from more stress, mental health difficulties and crime, that children do less well and that communities are less strong. And this is taking account of socio-economic status.

Streets are also practical. Terraced streets can be very high density. They are higher density than most post-war estates. Southwark saw its density fall by two thirds when streets were turned into post-war estates. If we built enough and regenerated sufficient land (with local support), streets could solve London’s housing crisis – potentially providing over a decade’s supply.

The opportunity is so great that the Government has commissioned Savills to investigate it. By making redevelopment more popular, by giving local people more control over what happens, we believe that redevelopment of more land would be popular.

So we have choices. And we should be backing streets not towers. If not, as the fate of Vauxhall and Blackfriars demonstrates, where one tall building is permitted, other will inevitably follow.

One senior industry insider who has steered though many high rise developments in London but whose family lives in a Georgian terraced house put it to me starkly when he warned of a ‘ticking time bomb’ of high future management and maintenance costs and conceded that, ‘I worry that we are creating ghettos of tall buildings.’ Will this be the fate for Swiss Cottage?

0 comments

Comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hampstead Highgate Express visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hampstead Highgate Express staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hampstead Highgate Express account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest News Stories

Fri, 16:29
A view of the proposed development from Maygrove Peace park

The final plans for what would be one of West Hampstead’s tallest towers have been made available to the public after Camden Council submitted the planning application.

Fri, 16:00
Pupils dress up for Highgate Primary School's nativity play. Picture: Nigel Sutton

A primary school put its own spin on a traditional nativity play by recruiting three Marys, three Josephs and a talking donkey.

Fri, 15:00
La Sainte Union pupils sing Christmas carols. Picture: Dieter Perry

Schoolgirls raised their voices in song to treat a church congregation to Christmas carols at a festive concert.

Fri, 13:00
Camden families have been defying new government rules and taking their children on holidays during school term time. Picture: PA File.

Dozens of Camden families have defied new government rules banning pupils from going on holiday during school term time, new figures reveal.

Most read news

And we were all invited to the happy couple’s big day!

And they have a role to play in saving their species.

Twinkle, twinkle you little stars – thanks for making your homes so festive.

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Hampstead & Highgate Express e-edition today E-edition