28 October 2008
Positive outlook for Future event
Alison Ledger reports from the Future of London Conference.
Keynote speakers at the Future of London Conference delivered an overriding message of positivity for the future of housing regeneration.
The potential impact of the economic downturn could not be ignored, however. The current climate also presents a period of much-needed change and opportunity for local authorities.
Deputy mayor of Hackney LBC, Jamie Carswell, opened the debate, calling for a ‘shift in thinking’. He said: ‘The way the Government funds local authorities may need radical surgery, but also long-term business growth needs to be at the centre of all plans.’
Government adviser, Tim Williams, supported this view on funding, and took it a step further, calling for the Government’s recent intervention in the banking system to be extended to regeneration and housing.
MP Iain Wright also said the role of the Government would have to change, and one of its key roles would be the ‘possible intervention on projects’, as signalled by the £16bn housing package released last month to ensure the Government was ‘well placed to support the major schemes with the most potential’.
Cllr Carswell also highlighted the need to reinforce shared objectives among developers and local authorities. Robin Smith, programme director of Woodberry Down Regeneration Scheme in Hackney, agreed. ‘Establish a broad vision with stakeholders and establish the main cost drivers,’ he said. ‘There must be a focus on the value of creation for all partners involved and these need to be negotiated as early as possible to take advantage of the strength of the housing market that will come in due course. Plan now, as a downturn is always followed by an upturn.’
Mr Smith offered further practical advice, urging authorities to conduct ‘a sanity check on costs to establish the best vehicle for delivery’, to prepare thoroughly for projects to ensure they were workable, and ‘explore new forms of tenure and profit-sharing’.
He continued: ‘Adjustments must be made, but good projects will always be attractive.’
London regional director of the Homes and Communities Agency, David Lunts, echoed this sentiment in his speech. ‘The problems won’t go away, and projects might slow, but they won’t shrink,’ he said. ‘Prepare for the upturn and there will be increased confidence in the public sector. Times such as this always give opportunities for people, too.’
The importance of a ‘powerful alliance of interest’ was also recognised by Mr Lunts, who went on to talk about the need for innovative projects and initiatives, a dominant strand in Mr Williams’s talk.
He explained: ‘London authorities must take the initiative. They can look at sites and plan out what should happen and buy cheap land. Funding should not be pointlessly spent in meeting [housing] targets which can’t be met. It’s about being more creative.’
Mr Williams believed the downturn had not only revealed the flaws of the banking world but also in housing, and suggested taking a moment to reflect and refocus the direction of housing.
He explained: ‘Hyperdensity is dead. The business model is flawed. In the past, flats were built in the wrong places and of the lowest quality that people didn’t want. The high-leverage, high-density brownfield model will not return.’
MJP Architect’s chairman, Richard MacCormac, also discussed the mistakes made in building high-rise housing for families. He proposed spatially-efficient plans, demonstrating how high-density housing didn’t mean overcrowding, while reconciling the need to create attractive homes people would want to live in, with the public benefits of densifying.
Similarly, Prof Sir Peter Hall, from the UCL, focused on densification, and suggested areas close to train stations as ideal for high-density, low-rise models. Prof Hall sees new possibilities for intensification with the introduction of Crossrail.
London mayor, Boris Johnson, closed the conference with some promising words. He said: ‘Rumours of the death of London’s economy have been exaggerated. There is considerable strength in London. We will not abandon targets of delivering 50,000 affordable units, but we will abandon the system of a 50% top-down on developments.’