London the requirement for a car is very different to inner London.” Jules Pipe responded by admitting there was a direct policy intention to de-incentivise car use, saying “there has to be behaviour change around cars, we can’t design for potential car use.”

Design issues

A range of views were expressed at the London Assembly meeting regarding the merits of a more coordinated approach to increasing density, although there were concerns over whether a removal of the upper limit was the best way to do this.

Architect Sunand Prasad of Penoyre and Prasad commended what he saw as a “move from developer-led to plan-led” approach at the GLA, as “fantastic in theory.” However he added a major caveat that to do so was “very complicated” and the current Plan seemed “half-baked” in simply removing a limit on density in one fell swoop. Prasad added: “There’s no transition, you are potentially removing all prescription.”

Jules Pipe responded to dissenters on whether the matrix could have been retained with a lower and upper limit, saying that local Boroughs could set size mixes, including the proportion of affordable rented housing. He admitted however that “there is a capacity issue at local authorities”. He insisted that the GLA “haven’t abandoned the principles of the density matrix” and confirmed that PTAL would remain the key means for working out the correct density. This is despite the fact the measure has been criticised because they present an “effectively binary choice” between PTAL categories 1-3 and 4-6 “which can virtually double the acceptable density,” according to a blog by legal firm Lichfields. Local planning authorities are “all too often placed under pressure by objectors if considering schemes at above the maximum density,” said Lichfields. However it added that this could again be avoided if they “accepted a little more subtlety in interpretation [of PTAL]”.

Developers will be encouraged to build affordable housing by the fact that schemes with 35 per cent or more affordable housing can benefit from fast track planning. Also, the GLA has promised new housing design guidance to support the new London Plan. This may give some hints as to what it means by developers offering “range” and “variety” to homeowners or renters, in the form of a greater mix of typologies on these denser future developments.

Devolution revolution

GLA members present at the meeting confirmed that the density level could be different on every site, and that they were “trying to get back to Boroughs looking at the capacity of each site”. With decision-making devolved, comes the question of whether it will be more accountable to local residents. One contributor at the GLA meeting warned, however, that as a result of removing the limit on density, “there are going to be a lot of developments that communities are going to feel uncomfortable with, because they weren’t involved, and because of what it is”. One organisation is trying to counter the assumption that residents automatically recoil at the idea of more homes being added to their site footprint, making the case for both how density can enhance streets and add value, and for much greater community involvement in decision-making. London YIMBY emulates the US-based Yes in My Back Yard movement which campaigns for development in areas where rental costs have escalated far beyond affordable levels for most residents.

The YIMBY organisation is trying to counter the assumption that residents automatically recoil at the idea of more homes being added to their site footprint

Its director John Myers told ADF that increasing density is the way forward: “Done well it can be a great way to get better places and do more with the land we have”. He is aiming to harness political support, encouraged by the California YIMBY movement having achieved three state laws to get more homes built, and a proposal to allow buildings of up to 80 feet in height anywhere within walking distance of public transport. Myers believes firmly that better spaces are possible via denser

housing: “We have plenty of room to build attractive, dense housing that will make better, more walkable and liveable places.” He thinks that the London Plan “is looking in the right direction, although the way they’ve drafted the small sites policy is very controversial in some areas. The London YIMBY project ( also looks to devolve decision-making down to community level. In its 2017 report ‘Yes in My Back Yard – How to end the housing crisis, boost the economy and win more votes,’ one of the “most popular options” described, says Myers, is the idea of letting residents allocate themselves planning permission on a street-by-street basis. They can then extend upwards or replace, thus increase density in a way that suits them, using a design code they have drawn up. According to the report, surveys carried out in 2016 and 2017 showed “up to 53 per cent” of residents in favour of the idea. Tim Burgess of CoveBurgess praises the YIMBY report’s ideas

as “effective because they attack the root of the problem, that is ‘top-down’ planning policy. National policy is a blunt instrument that is interpreted differently by different councils, and leads to endless bureaucracy, rather than imaginative solutions.” He adds: “The report creates a new structure of ‘grass roots up’, that allow cities to be intensified in a much more granular and particular way, without losing the grain, or pattern, of a place.” Myers cites a successful project that increased density in Primrose Hill, north London by HTA Design, where two rows of Victorian houses added mansard roof extensions to increase living space for growing families, or facilitate division into flats. The Fitzroof project, despite “unanimous support from residents” took two years to get planning. Says Myers, “Many planners want more well-planned density, but they are sensitive to reactions from local voters and councillors. The system was never really designed to allow a lot of densification.” He adds: “The GLA’s new draft London Plan is pushing for more density, and we are starting to see a backlash from some Boroughs.” Patrik Schumacher, principal at ZHA Architects, is a proponent of the benefits of urban density, but also has controversial views on the merits of letting the market dictate planning rather than politics. He says he supports the idea of residents being able to grant themselves rights to develop, seeing this as an example of where the market can dictate the best density for its own needs. “It will tease out where these densifications would be most value enhancing. This would not only increase the beauty and liveability of these areas as many new urban amenities would come in the wake of this densification, but contribute to overall prosperity as this would convert millions of commuting hours to potentially


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