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Up, up and away: how to save Camden’s green spaces

PUBLISHED: 12:00 11 July 2017

The City of London as seen from green and grassy Hampstead Heath

The City of London as seen from green and grassy Hampstead Heath

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has urged London’s councils to build upwards rather than destroy the capital’s much loved green spaces

Flats in the new mid-rise Kilburn Quarter development are priced from £499,950 Flats in the new mid-rise Kilburn Quarter development are priced from £499,950

With some of London’s most loved green spaces, north London is spoilt for choice when it comes to the outdoors. Increasingly, that green space is being touted as fertile ground for development as the housing crisis deepens.

A report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s London branch has argued for an alternative solution: building upwards rather than outwards. The Space to Build report argues that slow building rates and a dearth of funding is to blame for the lack of housing stock, rather than a lack of land.

As has been argued by other vocal campaigners, CPRE London has made the case for the conversion of single storey buildings into mid rise homes, reclaiming disused space and conversion of infill sites.

Alice Roberts of CPRE London said: “It is commonly argued that ‘to solve the housing crisis we must build on Green Belt and other green spaces’. But evidence shows there are suitable alternative sites available in London for well over a million new homes.”

The plans for a new high-rise tower at 100 Avenue Road in Swiss Cottage prompted a major public backlash The plans for a new high-rise tower at 100 Avenue Road in Swiss Cottage prompted a major public backlash

Councils are required presently to find sites to build 50,000 homes which the group argues often results in them releasing Greenbelt land. The group wants a commitment from councils to build on Brownfield sites before Greenfield, which it argues will only benefit big developers and landowners, with 70 per cent of the proposed homes not meeting the official definition of affordable as per the National Planning Policy Framework. Ms Roberts said: “The Government’s so-called ‘housing requirements’ are usually double or even triple actual build rates meaning councils must release land vastly in excess of what will be needed. This is not just poor planning, it is also an excuse for forcing profitable green sites, previously protected from development, onto the market, leaving Brownfield sites idle.”

The space above existing buildings has the potential to provide a minimum of half a million homes, whilst regeneration of current estates has the potential for 360,000 homes. Savills reported last year conversion of poorly designed estates could increase their capacity for housing by 50 per cent.

One suggestion has been to develop commercial space to incorporate homes. Camden’s branch of Morrisons is working with Barratt Homes to include 700 homes above and around the store, whilst Topps Tiles and the builders’ yard on Crossway in Hackney have been redeveloped recently to include new homes. Car parks could also be built upon whilst retaining their function.

Alternative land uses such as car parks could be converted into 75,000 homes, whilst disused garages, and reclamation of poorly designed roads and roundabouts could provide for 26,000 homes in total. Property Partner estimates that 41 per cent of lock-up garages in council possession are empty. Hackney Council is currently looking to redevelop the Lea Bridge Road roundabout, whilst development of garages in the borough into just single storey apartments could provide 1,165 homes with the potential to cater for older people in particular.

The question of building upwards has raised eyebrows in recent years, with protests in Swiss Cottage against the development of 100 Avenue Road.

However, CPRE London assures that mid rise building of just five to 10 storeys would be enough to make a dent in the burgeoning crisis. Councils seems to have taken note of the aversion to high rise in traditional residential boroughs, with projects like Bacton Low Rise touted as great successes for providing affordable housing as part of the Camden Community Investment Programme.

“With all the other opportunities identified in this report, which don’t involve a return to high rise development, we have enough space to be building for 40 years,” said Ms Roberts.

The City of London aside, London’s airspace is relatively underdeveloped in comparison to other major hubs such as Paris and New York, with half of all homes in the capital found in one or two story buildings.

Barratt Homes and Morrisons struck a deal at the end of 2016 to develop new homes above the Chalk Farm store. Photo: Google Maps Barratt Homes and Morrisons struck a deal at the end of 2016 to develop new homes above the Chalk Farm store. Photo: Google Maps

CPRE London argues that nearly 70 per cent of new homes are planned for Zones 1, 2 and 3. According to New London Architecture, three tall buildings are in the pipeline in Camden, whilst Haringey and Islington will both see five high-rises sprout up, in addition to the 17 in the works for Hackney. Building in the outer boroughs could provide some relief for central London, particularly with the Crossrail service set to arrive soon.

Indeed, the NLA’s tall buildings report showed a marked shift of activity from central London to the outer areas of the capital, with 18 high-rise buildings in the pipeline in NW2, 15 in NW10, 10 in E15, and 21 in CRO.

The CPRE London report also notes the potential for 300,000 new dwellings to be built in the Mayor’s Opportunity and Intensification Areas and Housing Zones. The West Hampstead interchange is currently a designated Intensification Area as is Haringey Heartlands, whilst Kings Cross St Pancras is an Opportunity Area.

According to the report, planners in the city have already identified sites for 560,000 homes with 260,000 already granted planning permission. CPRE London argues that if 25,000 homes continue to be built each year, ten years of housing needs could be met.

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