Regeneration. Is It All Talk?Posted on 8th June 2017
Regenerate London Plc’s Sebastian Whitton Says It’s Time For Communities To Join The Conversation
There’s a lot of talk about regeneration in London. The GLA’s London Plan has set aggressive new homes delivery targets for all of London’s Borough Councils at the same time as the Mayor has made it clear that green belt will remain green. The Government’s newly published housing white paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, makes provision for local authorities, communities and developers alike. But is it enough?
Not according to housebuilders who are urging the Government to give firm backing to Crossrail and not according to Regenerate London plc, a company specifically created to help solve London’s housing crisis through the regeneration of under-utilised land.
London can’t solve its problems by breaking new ground
The problem is this: London’s housing deficiency cannot be solved by breaking new ground because the only ‘new’ ground in London is generally Green Belt. The Mayor of London is very public in his opposition to building on Green Belt, even where it makes palpable sense to the communities that live there. If there’s no new ground, regeneration is the only answer, but regeneration is expensive.
Authorities want affordable housing but the economics of property development make it harder and harder to deliver. With raw material costs rising, Sterling in the doldrums, Brexit uncertainty and higher development costs on brownfield sites, developers need assistance if they’re going to commit to solving the housing crisis. Transport infrastructure improvements are one way of allowing the market to provide that assistance so Government doesn’t have to. Faster transport, better links and improved timetables increase demand, which raises prices which supports higher costs. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the consortium of volume builders want Government commitment, because it’s how they’ll finance their affordable stock.
London needs to increase the density of its housing
At Regenerate London, we also target areas with infrastructure improvements. Not only because it supports the business case for both planning and development, but also because London can’t solve its housing problems by building out low density schemes. We believe that the only way to meet demand is to increase densities. Those areas that have the lowest housing density are generally zones three to six, so targeting areas with higher demand should also support increased densification, making Regenerate London’s strategy a real part of solving local problems.
Central and Local Government support for regeneration comes in the form of firm commitments to transport infrastructure improvements, support to positive planning applications and a faster, more efficient planning process. But Government is only part of the picture. Local communities have the most to gain from improvements to their neighbourhoods, but are often the last to be consulted, if they’re consulted at all. Regenerate London is trying to change that. We understand that real change, real progress demands community engagement. Partly because we believe in leaving a legacy we and the communities we serve can be proud of, partly because visionary planning is only possible with support from locals and partly because community-led regeneration is faster, more efficient and more effective.
Planning strategy sympathetic with local communities
London’s mayor recognises the importance of densification in solving London’s problems. Sadiq Khan has outlined his concerns over London’s housing crisis and made clear his intention to address the issue, beginning with the proposed introduction of the new London Plan in 2018/19. This will set guidelines to increase the density of housebuilding in the capital, an initiative we obviously welcome. But, increasing densities may not prove too popular with locals. Community engagement is a must because Londoners tend to think very local.
Outsiders often think of London as one city. In reality, to those of us that live and work here, it’s more like a conglomerate of small towns, especially outside prime central London. Catford, Ealing, Stoke Newington and Romford all have distinctive personalities of their own, so we think a more local, less homogenous and more individual planning approach is required.
We think very locally: local sites, local builders, local solutions for local councils. Our mission is regenerating those sites that often get overlooked, but which can quickly become scars on the cityscape. So, while volume housebuilders and large developers concern themselves with landmark sites, we focus on community. Failing pubs, derelict parades, ugly developments, redundant industrial sites and low rise developments are all worth our time. We’ve set out our stall as small and medium sized planning specialists for these kinds of sites because its where we think we can best mobilise local communities, both to help themselves and to benefit financially from the regeneration process.
Think local, act local and prosper
Our sites are normally too small for volume builders and local developers often don’t want to, can’t or don’t have the expertise to assume planning risk. As a community-led planning specialist, our process is that we identify sites and work with local authorities to create planning-optimised development-ready sites. Ideally, our sites are picked up immediately by local builders but group companies also have the ability to step in and deliver.
Regeneration is the only answer to London’s housing crisis and if the London Plan’s targets are to be delivered, the starting point is optimised planning applications. Boroughs, communities and the people that live in them need to think local and act local by getting involved in initiatives like Regenerate London.
For more information on Regenerate London, please visit www.regeneratelondon.com
Sebastian Whitton joined Affinity in August 2015 and his principal role is in management of the company’s residential portfolio. He is responsible for identifying sites, acquisition negotiations, project planning and management. He also shares responsibility for business development and assists with strategic planning of other projects, deal flow and transaction management.
Sebastian started his working career as a property manager in 2009 in commercial real estate. In 2011, he transitioned into the financial services sector as a financial adviser and subsequently established his own financial services agency specialising in protection and insurance.