High Densities – the NPPF’s solution to the housing crisis?

In the planning tug-of-war of unattainable housing need and design quality, higher density development should be encouraged, with caution.

The revised NPPF encourages higher densities in areas of high housing demand. On the face of it, the reinforcement of good design in achieving sustainable development is to be applauded. The detail of the NPPF focuses on delivering housing numbers, with much reliance placed on local policies and assessments to identify a suitable mix of house types and sizes.

Clock House Gardens, Welwyn: a mix of private and communal amenity space.

The GPDO brought in by Government has delivered an increase in dwellings in areas of high housing need. High density development often delivers 1- and 2-bed flats in areas which have an increasing need for family housing, as evident in Slough. ‘Density’ is not afforded a definition in the NPPF, so LPAs must look to best practice to determine densities which support balanced and mixed communities.

As development becomes denser the issues that could affect any residential development come under more pressure, particularly where conflicts between different land uses and tensions between residents arise. Due to the large number of policies and standards, there is inevitably a compromise at the local decision-making level. This was evident from the design review undertaken by DLA on behalf of the GLA, where the quality and quantity of private amenity space suffered at higher densities.

Brewery Square, London: apartments and town houses in an urban environment.

A mix of building heights within master-planned schemes can provide higher densities which provide a mix of housing to meet the needs of different groups. Different built forms can achieve similar densities – high-rise towers are not always the answer. The traditional town house continues to provide an efficient model for high density living.

Innovative methods are emerging to maximise the efficient use of space; YO! Homes promote space saving design features such as furniture which lifts out of the floor to maximise its minimal 40.8m² footprint1. These compact apartments are smaller than even the nationally described space standards for a 1 bed 1 person flat2. This intelligent use of space provides compact living solutions for the young and transient population.

Campbell Square, Central Milton Keynes: an attractive landscape setting to ‘high’ density living.

Providing family housing at high density has been made possible with a roof terrace replacing the traditional garden space at Kidbrooke Park. This low maintenance alternative is intended to respond to twenty first century lifestyles with flexible living space catering to changing family demands.

New housing stock should stand the test of time, addressing housing need in the most efficient way possible. It is imperative that all the ‘ingredients’ for success are provided at the appropriate level for the forecasted resident population. We can then rest safe in the knowledge that we aren’t replicating the mistakes of high density developments of the past.

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[1] Manchester City Council planning application ref: 111605/FO/2016/N2

[2] Where a bathroom rather than a shower room is provided