Sustainable Urban Growth
The event, attended by over 80 people at Triodos Bank’s HQ in Bristol, gave people opportunities to meet and learn from local, like-minded organisations. Following a hearty organic breakfast, the experts from Nash Partnership, a design, planning and economic regeneration consultancy based in Bristol and Bath, addressed the room on the subject of sustainable urban growth in the region.
Before hearing from Nash Partnership, Rebecca Pritchard, Head of Business Banking highlighted some recent bank initiatives contributing to sustainable development – pointing out that Triodos Bank considers the environmental, social and financial impacts of projects, including how they fit in their communities. Examples included
- CO2 Zero Livework in St Paul’s, Bristol , where passive house “pods” have been craned into place on top of an existing building, providing affordable workspaces
- A loan to the Soil Association to help them acquire and refurbish an existing office in central Bristol as their permanent headquarters
- Financing of housing co-ops and Community Land Trusts which help people who might otherwise struggle to take the first step onto the housing ladder
- Our newly launched £15m Warmer Homes and Greener Community loan product benefitting social housing residents
The presentation opened with some sobering statistics around the quality and supply of housing:
- In the West of England an average of just 4,025 homes are completed each year. If this continues there will be a shortfall of nearly 1225 homes each year, and 24,500 in total by 2036
- The lack of local authority housing correlates with the significant increase in expenditure on housing benefit in the last 40 years
- The UK trails behind developed economies in proportions of new homes delivered by self-custom build in 2011. Less than 10% in the UK, compared to over 80% in Austria
- Local authority building has disappeared, with Housing Association and Private Enterprise building also significantly lower than previous decades
How can we deliver more housing, while creating environmentally-responsive, economically successful and distinctive places? The key to this, according to Mike Fox, Associate Planning Director at Nash Partnership, is to seek to understand what beneficial changes are required to meet the needs of society. For example, addressing waste and using it as a resource, reducing energy consumption, or quite simply creating places where people want to live i.e. walk, cycle, interact – while also recognising that needs change over time.
To meet housing needs where they’re most needed requires the public sector to step up, according to the planners at Nash Partnership. Local authorities have an active role to play in reversing the decline in public sector building and also transform public transport at the same time. Part of the issue is the lack of competition in the supply of new housing stock; there are very few small- and medium-sized housing builders in the UK and this stifles competition.
Design needs to be flexible and diverse; people need to be involved from the ground up in order to create good places to live, work and thrive.
People from the ground up
With sunshine breaking through the clouds and brightening the view from the top floor at Triodos Bank (and coffee top-ups and networking beckoning), Nash Partnership shared their thoughts on addressing the issues. The options are varied and more effective if carried out in unison with each other. For example, changes in national policy can help precipitate local control over regional planning and financing. If coupled with incentives for self-build and a commitment to using existing urban space more intelligently (densification), new channels for housing can be opened up and utilised.
Through urban densification, city environments can be transformed which will, in turn, help raise land values. But as we all know, prosperity and growth is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. Yes, we need to capture land value and find ways of unlocking it for development, but this must be done with fair values paid to land owners and a greater focus on the quality of developments.
Perhaps equally, if not more importantly, we’re reminded that housing is not just a product. To create it we must understand people and places and ensure wellbeing is fundamental in the planning process. Creating places where people have privacy and an opportunity for community – where it provides identity and is affordable, are all key. Design, therefore, needs to be flexible and diverse; people need to be involved from the ground up in order to create good places to live, work and thrive.
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