The aim of this seminar is to consider how best to secure good urban and sustainable design in small scale development in existing built-up areas, especially in suburbs. There is a policy imperative to increase the housing stock. This, combined with high land values, is leading to incremental intensification of our suburban areas. A sizeable proportion of additional new housing is being created through a combination of smaller infill developments and replacement of existing housing with either smaller houses with smaller gardens or blocks of flats.
Higher densities used to be associated with high rise - and we all know that many high rise developments from the 60s and 70s were not successful. We now understand better that high density can be achieved and can create very successful places, not necessarily with high rise, but depends upon applying high standards of urban design. A tension has the potential to arise, however, when existing successful locations are intensified through incremental development without associated improvements or changes in urban form. For example, what are the long-term repercussions of replacing numerous semi-detached houses with blocks of flats and how can these changes be managed to maintain the quality of suburban areas?
In London, in particular though relevant nationally, there has been a reliance on public transport accessibility and associated density matrices, sometimes without sufficient (at least from the perspective of some) consideration of the existing character of areas - those factors that have made them successful and desirable places to live and which have generated the high land values in the first place. If this character is lost, then long-term damage may be done, for the sake of short-term increases in housing delivery.
Looking at the bigger picture or urban configuration, where should we be focussing intensification, are density matrices alone the right approach and how do we ensure that existing successful areas are enhanced, not damaged, by incremental new development? There is a recognised political and design tension associated with densification of existing areas, especially suburbs. This seminar will seek to draw out the key issues of this debate and then start to highlight policies, tools, processes and mechanisms that might be used to address this and take us towards acceptable solutions. The full resolution is by no means available now, but new thinking in urban analysis and ways of looking at the urban environment are becoming available to help us to navigate a way towards better tools for planning policy and development control officers, who are daily working on this contentious matter.
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Fielden Clegg Bradley, Maccreanor Lavington and Alison Brooks Architects