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VIEWS


ASK THE ARCHITECT


Patrik Schumacher, principal at Zaha Hadid Architects, answers ADF’s questions on how housing could be improved


Our communication-intensive new economy depends on continuous professional networking and thrives best in large, dense urban clusters.


YOU ADVOCATE ABOLISHING ALL GOVERNMENT-LED SOCIAL AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING, HOW COULD YOU BE SURE THE PRIVATE SECTOR WOULD BUILD THE RIGHT AMOUNTS AND RIGHT QUALITY IN ITS PLACE?


How can we be sure that the private sector will deliver fresh croissants, coffee and orange juice according to individual preferences for millions of breakfast tables every morning? All this happens without any quotas! The 19th century, the era of laissez-faire capitalism, delivered all those beautiful urban buildings we still thrive in better than in what 20th century government planning delivered.


Patrik Schumacher of ZHA


WHY WOULD THE PRIVATE SECTOR BUILD IN AREAS WHICH WERE NOT FINANCIALLY ATTRACTIVE FOR IT TO DO SO – AND IS THIS A PROBLEM?


YOU HAVE SAID SOME FAIRLY STARTLING THINGS ON THE SUBJECT OF SOCIAL HOUSING RECENTLY, ARE SUCH COMMENTS PARTLY DESIGNED TO PROVOKE PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE?


I am using the debate to explore ideas and am willing to receive serious push back. My comments about privatisation and social housing have been met with disbelief by many, although I also received a lot of encouragement. To give truth a chance at all we need to avoid ad hominem attacks and see each other as honest, unselfish truth seekers, even in the face of unusual contributions. Defamation must never substitute for argument.


YOU SAY THE MARKET SHOULD DECIDE ON THE BEST DENSITY – IS THIS IN THE MAIN A REACTION TO THE WORST ILLS OF GOVERNMENT PLANNING?


The housing market is unfortunately one of the most politicised markets, suffocating under political interventionism. The loss of societal prosperity here is enormous, not only due to the poor housing provision, but further due to its stifling impact on all economic activities. Productivity growth is the key to all our aspirations.


ADF MARCH 2018


In a free market society, a real need expresses itself in market demand, which in turn inspires supply. The greatest fortunes are earned through the supply of mass markets, without any subsidies. Competition in supply keeps prices competitive. Our affordability crisis must be attributed to supply restrictions – nobody is disputing this. Where I diverge from the mainstream is that I do not believe that subsidies are the answer while restrictions are kept in place. How then, without subsidies, will those with lower incomes be housed? By urban entrepreneurs who will tailor economic products for this market segment, if the Government gets out of the way. Housebuilders should be able to deliver decent, truly affordable housing, but only if Government withdraws and let’s the market get to work. Arbitrary, politically imposed density, land use and space standards have to be abolished, and entrepreneurial creativity must be allowed to tailor solutions to various lifestyles and income groups.


LONDON HAS FAILED TO BUILD THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IT NEEDS – HALF OF THE 30,000 BUILT IN 2016 WAS BUILT IN 2007, WHO DO YOU BLAME FOR THIS?


I blame the planning system and ‘nimby’ism, as well as space standards, but also the affordability impositions themselves which discourage development.


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Rationing forgoes the market rationality that always allocates resources to those who best utilise them. For the sake of society’s total productivity, central locations should be allocated to those whose optimum productivity is most dependent upon operating at the centre of our network society.


The whole system of so-called ‘affordable housing’ constitutes a massive interference with market processes that costs our society dearly, and is one of the contributing causes of the whole affordability crisis it is intended to alleviate. If you think through the chain of economic effects from the fact that some people receive houses at artifi- cially suppressed prices, it makes housing, on average, less affordable.


Sadiq Khan seems intent on ramping up ‘affordable housing,’ i.e. housing rationed according to political prerogatives, to 50 per cent of all new housing provision, thereby making the remainder – which has to cover the subsidies – all the more unaffordable. No wonder that the income eligibility threshold is ramped up continuously also. A vicious cycle.


By subsidising the residences of privately employed ‘key workers’ we only allow their salaries to be lowered, thus benefitting those who use their services. This might often be people who could, would and should pay more for these services. By subsidising such workers we are further privileging a group that seems already comparatively privileged. Like most subsidies they do not at all deliver what they claim, namely to help those most in real need.


DO YOU HAVE A MODEL OF MARKET- LED SOCIAL HOUSING YOU ARE READY TO APPLY IN PRACTICE?


We are working on radical densification concepts with creative entrepreneurs like Reza Merchant from The Collective and Crispin Kelly from Baylight. The Collective uses a regulatory loophole to offer a very innovative, affordable and attractive rental ‘co-living’ product in London, far away from the imposed space standards. The individual apartment units are just 10 m2 i.e. one fourth of the required minimum.


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DO YOU THINK THE AD HOC COLLECTION OF TALL BUILDINGS IN THE CITY OF LONDON IS AN ILLUSTRATION OF WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF THE MARKET’S ALLOWED TO ADJUDICATE ON PLANNING?


I agree that there is an aesthetic problem with the high rise cluster in the City.


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