London has potential to add 1.4m homes by upping the density

City Hall and local authorities could increase housebuilding numbers in the capital by making better use of land and increasing development densities, new research from London First and Savills says. The report, Redefining density, says London is not a dense city compared with the centres of other major cities, such as Paris and Madrid. It says that leaving aside areas of green space, the green belt and water, there are many parts of the capital that have good transport links but low housing density, mostly in outer London.

If those well-connected areas with a low housing density matched the density of similarly connected but higher density areas this would notionally create around 1.4m new homes across London. This is around 1m more than the current 10-year London Plan housebuilding target. The report stresses that the 1.4m calculation does not take into account actual local circumstances, such as the urban realm (including local infrastructure) and whether, or how, new homes might be built. It is ultimately down to the market and the planning system to assess this.

However, it highlights the potential to make better use of land in London by moderately increasing housing densities in well-connected areas. If housebuilding could be expanded to build a tenth of the 1m additional homes over the next 10 years, London would be able to increase its housebuilding target to 52,000 new homes a year, which is closely in line with need.

The report argues that:

  • There are opportunities to make better use of land through densification in town centres, parts of suburbia and on some public land
  • Concerns over higher density development are often a legacy of past mistakes in urban regeneration, where monolithic tower blocks were built unsympathetically. It says higher density does not have to mean high-rise, as tower blocks surrounded by sterile empty space can be lower density than Victorian terraced housing
  • The issue is how London can use land more efficiently to build more and better homes; and quality of design is central to this. Design, in its broadest sense, must therefore take the lead to support the more intensive use of land
  • Higher density areas also deliver benefits to local residents, by creating the critical mass to support more shops, better and more diverse local services, and improved social and transport infrastructure.

Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, said: “London is in the midst of a housing crisis and the business community believes housing costs are a major threat to the capital’s international competitiveness. We need London’s planning policies to give strategic support to building at a higher density, while being clear that the density of any particular development must be appropriate for its location”.

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