Brown for blue – SOS for affordable homes

14th February 2018

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IT’S not a UK-wide emergency – yet. But it could become one. More than half of “blue-light” emergency workers who work in London live outside the city.

They are pushed out to the margins by prohibitive property prices – and this has implications, not just in terms of recruitment and retention but related to the city’s ability to respond to critical situations such as terrorist attacks.

Given that London is the bellwether of the UK economy, this looming crisis provides insight into how the future could unfold in other urban centres across the country, where property prices are also rocketing.

But, for the moment, it’s an issue that has come into sharp focus in London, which is due to achieve mega-city status with more than 10 million residents by 2024.

And while those responsible for the safety of the city, its residents, its businesses and its infrastructure maybe feeling blue about preparedness for adverse events – or, indeed a sense of inclusivity against a tidal wave of inner-city gentrification – the solution could be brown.

Yes, brown – or, to be more precise, the solution could be lying in brownfield sites that could be developed as the locations of specialist housing for “Category One” responders.

Brownfield is a specific technical term used in urban planning to describe vacant or unused land which was previously used for industrial or commercial purposes, where its expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.

They are seen as “currently not contributing much, if at all”, to London’s needs.

A specially commissioned mapping exercise undertaken for London Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that there are 329 hectares of brown space in the city.

This equates to 500 football pitches and it has the potential for up to 20,000 new-builds that could provide homes for the men and women working in the police, fire and paramedic services – 54 per cent of whom live outside the city, according to Freedom Of Information statistics obtained by LCCI.

For decades, house-building in London has been unable to keep up with demand, resulting in the housing challenge faced today.

Just 29,000 homes were built in 2017, while the requirement was twice that amount. In order to help unfreeze suitable land for construction, local authorities now have the responsibility to keep up-to-date registers of brownfield sites and to identify these to builders on request.

Looking beyond London, it is estimated that there is brown space for an extra 425,000 homes.

Meanwhile, the LCCI has urged London’s mayor to recognise the “need” for housing provision for front-line staff in the police, fire and ambulance paramedic services – in a similar way that previous reviews of policy in the city concluded there was a need for housing provision for older people and students.

And on February 12, 2018, the mayor waved through plans to financially support the creation of a 21-storey development of low-cost housing on brownfield sites in Croydon.

The homes being delivered by affordable housing specialists Pocket Living can be purchased with just a five per cent deposit from households with a salary of £39,000, and they can only be sold to residents and workers in the borough.

The homes are also expected to remain affordable for the lifetime of the building.

From this …

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To this …

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