The UK is in a housing crisis. With fewer homes being built, prices of those available have skyrocketed and the quality of the build is renowned to be suffering. London is at the epicentre of this crisis, with most of the city’s nearly 9 million residents being priced out of the areas they live and work in, forcing them into longer commutes, hefty rental prices or settling in living environments that are ill equipped for their needs. And this looks set to continue. Though Brexit has cast some doubt over the future of the housing sector since the UK announced they would be leaving the UK, the widely held opinion seems to be that the supply and demand issue will only continue. In 2017, London’s population hit an all time high of almost 8.8 million. By 2050, London’s population is expected to increase to 11 million – meaning demand looks set to grow.
One key problem facing the housing market and in turn amplifying the supply and demand issue is that we are running out of places to build. There’s a distinct lack of land available for developers to work with. Writing as part of the Museum of London’s City Now City Future season, CityMetric editor Jonn Elledge explains that “a 2016 report from housing charity Shelter noted that, to build 50,000 homes using brownfield alone, we would need to build the equivalent of four Olympic Parks a year, on top of what we were already building.”
Elledge goes on to argue that “reviewing the green belt, which has restrained the city’s growth since the 1950’s” is an option that could tackle the space shortage and extend London outwards, and cites the Adam Smith Institute, a free market think tank, which has suggested that releasing just 3.7% of the greenbelt could produce a million new homes within walking distance of a railway station.
But the idea of touching this sacrosanct land has long been rejected by the government. Earlier this month, Theresa May stressed that the answer to the housing crisis did not lie in “tearing up the green belt” She added: “Barely 13 percent of this country is covered by such a designation, but it serves a valuable and very specific purpose.”
Regardless of her views on the green belt, May is under pressure to “fix the broken housing market as she promised”. Research carried out by The Evening Standard ahead of our next Midtown Big Ideas Exchange into the future of London as a Place to Live has proved how important this is – 52% of Midtowners, when surveyed said that the cost and availability of houses in London was one of the key factors that would most impact their decision to leave the city.
It appears that if where we build houses is restricted, the way we build houses needs to change. Professor Philip Oldfield and the Sustainable Tall Buildings Design Lab at the University of Nottingham told the BBC that “the homes of tomorrow could range from sky-high apartments in vertical villages to flat-pack, pre-fabricated housing and eco homes”, while the Evening Standard’s Homes and Property believe that “flexible ‘shells’ tailored to budget and timber pods are set to transform London’s new-build homes”
Writer David Taylor explains: “Homes are adapting to suit the ever-changing patterns of city living, from freelance workers setting up home offices, to retired empty nesters and several generations living under one roof. London’s flexible new-build homes must champion a ‘long life, loose fit’ approach…”
The capital continues to be the nation’s fastest growing region with a growth rate of 1.3 per cent, more than twice the level of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the north of England. For our city, and the future of the Midtown area particularly, a solution to the housing crisis cannot come soon enough – any delay will seriously impact London’s status as a global leader, leading to a knock on effect for both businesses and residents.
If you want to know more about London as a Place to Live join us for the fourth in our series of Midtown Big Ideas debates as our panel of experts unpick how the homes of the future meet London’s needs and how London is expanding beyond the city’s walls. Register now for your free tickets and join us on 14th March from 6.30pm at wallacespace Clerkenwell.