Can 'beds and sheds' be the solution?

06 Mar 19 | Ian Anderson

… as a genuine consideration about place quality, more aspirational thinking along the lines of beds and sheds should be encouraged…

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Delivering houses should not just be a numbers game 

The UK property industry will soon embark on their annual pilgrimage to the South of France, and as usual, residential development – and moreover the housing crisis – will once again be omnipotent in the discussions taking place in the forums and exhibitions in Cannes. 

It can sometimes feel like the housing crisis is an abstract concept, divorced from all other aspects of life (and property): Build more houses, get new population forecasts, build more houses. And it can also feel as though residential is the antidote to all other ills: Struggling town centre? Fill it with housing. The need to deliver more homes can often have the whiff of a mainly quantitative problem, when in practice, it is always the quality of space that ultimately determines whether a development has been successful or otherwise. So, how do we make employment-led mixed-use schemes work?

The concept of ‘beds and sheds’ has recently been gaining a large amount of air time, and Property Week’s fascinating coverage of six architects, a number of which we work closely with, designing their vision for a future mixed use environment, where employment and residential requirements are symbiotically linked, was an excellent example of putting quality of space first (Six in the City: Sheds of the future, 22 February 2019). Although aspirational, the examples profiled sought to identify reasons for merging what, on face value, could appear like conflicting land uses, rather than simply chucking a load of flats on top of a shed in a relentless march to find more housing sites.

In our opinion, the drive towards mixed-use sites, where employment is the dominant land use, needs to come from the shed developers and operators, and the planning system needs to incentivise them to invest in innovative, technologically-led solutions. Crucial amongst this is ensuring that any business present within such a scheme is not inhibited by residential neighbours. Equally, home renters and owners cannot be expected to put up with second-class living conditions.

So the London Mayor’s concept of ‘the agent of change’ (or ‘polluter pays’) approach makes perfect sense, in ensuring that the operational aspects of mixed use developments is not deficient. However, by the same token, is it reasonable to apply the same blanket s106 contributions and strictures to schemes that could be expected to otherwise come forward as single use developments, that would comply with established local plan policies?

On a practical level, whilst such schemes are at the research and development stage it would be appropriate to treat the residential element of such proposals as ‘windfall’, and to incentivise companies and businesses to invest in some of the ideas profiled in Property Week.

Of course, there needs to be a reason to invest in beds and sheds developments in the same way as there needs to be a reason to want to be located within such a development, be that employment or residential. But, as a genuine consideration about place quality, more aspirational thinking along the lines of beds and sheds should be encouraged; to see our thinking please click here

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