Memorandum by National Housing Federation
The National Housing Federation represents 1,350
independent, not for profit social housing providers in England.
They include housing associations, co-ops, trusts and stock transfer
organisations, and they own and/or manage more than 1.7 million
homes provided for affordable rent, supported housing and low
cost home ownership, and deliver an increasingly diverse range
of community and regeneration services.
Demographic trends are causing household formation
to increase at a rate faster than population growth. Together
with the Government's target of achieving 60 per cent of new housing
on brownfield sites by 2008, there is a growing pressure on planners
and housing developers to achieve higher density housing schemes
in urban areas, particularly in the major cities. Where there
is already a shortage of housing available for rent and ownership,
the pressure to "build up" is likely to increase.
The Federation believes that tall buildings
are not intrinsically good or bad forms of accommodation, but
they do require:
intensive housing management, which
may require include a concierge and/or 'supercaretaking' service;
appropriate dwelling mix, appropriate
occupation levels, with sensitive allocation policies that discourage
households with children being allocated high rise housing;
attractive and robust design; and
popular locations with good connections
to the transport infrastructure and other amenities.
Note: the DTLR Housing Investment Programme
return defines "high rise" residential buildings as
being six storeys or more. It is assumed that "tall buildings"
for the purpose of the inquiry are considered to be higher than
six storeys and are more likely to be multi storey blocks, ten
storeys or more high.
The role of tall buildings in achieving high
densities in residential areas; the provision of offices for certain
types of global companies; and as a means of enhancing the beauty
of our cities.
Tall buildings can play a role in ensuring that
there is an appropriate amount of housing accommodation to meet
the needs of local demand, and also provide the "critical
mass" to support shops, local amenities and transport infrastructure.
However, where people are concentrated in a relatively small area,
a more intensive management approach to housing and the public
realm is likely to be necessary. As for whether tall buildings
enhance the beauty of cities is a matter for conjecture. Perceptions
of tall buildings are often driven by the use of the building,
ie, multi-storey council blocks are often perceived poorly, and
luxury tall buildings tend to be perceived positively.
It is worth making the simple point that achieving
high-density housing does not necessarily require tall buildings.
Some of the higher density built environments in urban areas are
often characterised not by tall buildings, but by terraced housing.
The issue of density and urban form was developed in Lord Rogers'
Urban Task Force Report Towards an Urban Renaissance (June 1999).
It usefully illustrated how a similar density could be achieved
in three scenarios, the first with a single high rise building
and low coverage of land, the second with low rise buildings and
high coverage of land, and the third with medium rise building
and medium coverage of land (figure 2.6 in the Rogers Report).
A key issue was the availability of car parking space that diminished
from the first to the third scenario. With car ownership, and
particularly households with more than one car continuing to rise,
this remains a crucial planning consideration. It also re-emphasises
the importance and need for a reliable, safe, affordable public
transport service and infrastructure that people want to use.
The sustainability of tall buildings, in particular
in terms of construction, transport and long term flexibility
Focusing on London as an example, the Mayor's
Housing Commission Report Homes for a World City (November 2000)
identified a need for 43,000 homes annually to cater for both
growing and existing housing need, of which 28,000 was needed
for social and intermediate housing purposes. This should be set
against the identified housing capacity figure of 19,000 that
is similar to the amount of housing being built in London presently.
The Commission recommended that the Greater London Authority "...
should consider and plan to include within the Spatial Development
Strategy proposals for increasing housing capacity in London without
jeopardising environmental sustainability, including the potential
for increasing densities and for bringing more sites or non-residential
The Towards a London Plan (May 2001), the Mayor's
Spatial Development Strategy initial proposals makes little mention
of tall residential buildings as a means to delivering the 43,000
per annum needed to meet existing and future demand. However,
it is clear that better land use along Urban Task Force principles
will be required in order to meet the Commission's targets. It
is not known whether tall buildings will be recommended to achieve
them, although the opportunities that major investment in the
transport infrastructure offer, such as the proposed London Crossrail,
will probably lead to some sites near the development being identified
as "windfall" opportunities which may be appropriate
for tall buildings. If such buildings begin to receive planning
permission by the respective authorities, it is likely that land
prices will rise, which will have the knock-on effect of making
"traditional" low/medium-rise developments less affordable
in high value areas than they already are.
More research work needs to be undertaken to
understand better "what works" in terms of residential
density. The London Housing Federation (one of the 10 regions
of the National Housing Federation) will be commissioning a project
to examine successful and unsuccessful examples of existing 'high'
residential density to draw out a series of considerations and
good practice guidelines. These will then form the basis of a
practical "tool-kit" for use by those considering appropriate
densities when developing predominantly residential schemes. The
project will consider and seek answers to a number of issues,
including what the most appropriate way is to measure residential
density; why high density housing works for some people, but not
others; how lettings policies impact on high density schemes;
how cost-effective high density is when initial development savings
are set against ongoing management and maintenance costs, and
also how that impacts on service charges. The Federation expects
the report to be published in May 2002.
Where tall buildings should be located, including:
what restrictions, if any, should
be placed on the location of tall buildings; and
how far they should be allowed to
block existing views; and whether they should be clustered or
The height and density of a scheme will depend
on a number of considerations, which will include:
the purpose the building(s) serves
and what it contributes to the social, economic and environmental
well being of the area;
the existing local infrastructure
(or what will need to be built) to support it; and
design quality and aesthetic considerations,
ie, its appropriateness to the existing physical environment and
impact on easements.
It is suggested that tall buildings are better
suited to areas that already have tall buildings, but it may be
of some strategic use, ie, to meet housing or office shortage,
that tall buildings are constructed where the opportunity arises.
This may occur where major improvements are in place or are planned
for the transport infrastructure.
When considering proposals for tall buildings,
some form of option appraisal / cost benefit analysis should be
undertaken to assess what can be achieved by using the land differently.
Many high-rise developments are characterised by very poorly managed
(and consequently) poorly used open space that is considered neither
public nor private.
Whether in the present movement to erect new
tall buildings we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the
Tall buildings do offer the opportunity to develop
accommodation that is spacious, safe, and cost effective for addressing
the needs of one and two person households, who wish to live centrally
and do not want to incur the increased rent/mortgage costs and
management costs associated with a larger property.
There are plenty of examples of poorly designed,
unpopular high-rise social housing that has come to typify inner
city deprivation. Equally, there are some examples that have come
to be recognised as very exclusive, sought after locations, but
more recent private sector high-rise developments have tended
to be in prime locations, often by waterways.
An important element of successful high-rise
housing management has been the advent in the last decade of concierge
schemes. A report commissioned by the DETR High Hopes: concierge,
controlled entry and similar schemes for high rise blocks (1997)
highlighted that intensive concierge schemes can provide the circumstances
for more effective management of high rise blocks, but that they
were not a solution on their own. The researchers found that the
most successful concierge schemes were contingent on changes to
allocations policies, and also where non-residents perpetrate
anti-social behaviour. However, the cost of concierges can be
prohibitive and can contribute significantly to the "poverty
The Federation considers it essential that development
of high-rise buildings proposals for residential purposes, whether
for private, public or a mix of tenures, there must be:
an appropriate dwelling mix, that
has a preference for one and two bedroom accommodation;
a sensitive allocations policy, with
perhaps a mix of tenures also;
onsite communal facilities required
by residents; and
sufficient resources are earmarked
for housing management purposes, which ideally should include
a concierge service that can be afforded by low-income residents.
Whether those making decisions are sufficiently
accountable to the public.
The Federation does not have a particular view
on how development and planning decisions are made with respect
to proposed tall buildings. We do expect the Planning Green Paper
to comment substantially on the planning process and would hope
that future decisions on tall buildings are properly scrutinised
by the local planning authority, with local people and stakeholders
having access to all relevant matters pertaining to the application.
Whether the Government should have a more explicit
policy on the subject.
Consideration should be given to more research
and literature on the issue of high rise housing and what the
salient issues are for strategic and development control planners,
housing developers and housing managers. In the medium and longer
term, pressure to increase housing density on new developments,
particularly in areas of high housing demand will lead to more
high-rise buildings being proposed. It is doubtful whether an
explicit policy is required from the Government, but it may be
that a related organisation, such as the Commission for Architecture
and the Built Environment (CABE), can play a crucial role in ensuring
that decisions made are with the best information and expertise
available. It is worth noting that the DTLR published Tapping
the potentialAssessing urban housing capacity: towards
better practice (Dec 2000) which offered much interesting information
on how land use could be made more efficient, made little reference
to the pros and cons of tall residential buildings.