As a nation we are (massively) failing to build enough homes to meet demand. Since 2008, the number of new households created each year has exceeded the number of homes built. And the deficit is huge – at the moment, we are building about 140,000 new homes per year, but according to some estimates, we should be building nearly twice that. That’s a city the size of Newcastle, every year.
Such a daunting problem seems to demand radical solutions. With particular reference to the southeast, urban designer David Rudlin thinks the answer to is to “take a confident bite out of the greenbelt”. His view represents a return to the ‘new towns’ model that occupied architectural thinking in the 1960s.
Leading British architect Richard Rogers considers this “a ridiculous concept”, and severely premature in light of other opportunities. He advocates building on brownfield and exploiting infill sites – also known as gap sites. These small plots are found embedded in densely developed urban areas. They often contain derelict ancillary structures such as garages or redundant commercial and community buildings. Crucially, developing a gap site does not require demolishing existing homes.
Beyond simply providing more homes, Rogers believes that adding density in urban areas helps existing communities to flourish, while preserving metropolitan boundaries and surrounding countryside.
We tend to agree, and as a practice we are joyfully taking on housing and high street regeneration projects in gap sites next to, above – and sometimes below – buildings. In close collaboration with clients and local communities, we are bringing new life to neglected and derelict areas.