Ladies and gentlemen, I am so pleased to join you today here in Shoreditch, and I am particularly grateful to all of you for sparing the time to consider such a critical subject as London's future housing need. And I am finding myself in the utterly unenviable position of the last to speak on the subject, particularly when there are such as distinguished range of experts here, I am afraid I'm not really sure what I can usefully add without being in constant danger of repetition. Although I can promise a cup of tea at the end!
I must just mention, bearing in mind what Dominic so kindly said, that I am hugely proud work of the Foundation and I am particularly grateful and proud of the role Dominic has played. If I may say so, he is a realization of my investment very nearly thirty years ago, as he was a student and he had already started his own business. But I never forgot him, at that stage; I never thought for a minute he would come back around and end up here, being such a fantastic support, having apparently listened to what I was saying all those years ago! It gives me such enormous reward to see the results of all that effort I was trying to make in those days, to ensure we did at least pass on some of the timeless knowledge and wisdom that had been built up over literally thousands of years before it all disappeared. But I also want to try and find a way of reconnecting all the professions involved in the built environment, albeit rather fragmented. So anyway I am immensely grateful to Dominic and indeed to Sir Michael Hintze who is the Chairman.
Ladies and gentlemen, I must say I really am so pleased that my Foundation has worked with a number of you here to consider how best to respond to the challenge of London's growing population. It is an incredibly pertinent subject given that, six years ago, for the first time in history, half of the world’s population was living in cities. United Nations projections indicate that we will add three billion urban dwellers to the planet by 2050. How we actually meet the urbanization challenge in a sustainable way, while maintaining the character, culture and identity of these cities, let alone ensuring that the surrounding countryside remains a viable source of food, water and functioning ecosystems, is absolutely critical.
Listening to the discussion this afternoon, it is reassuring that we are united in a desire for London to thrive as a dynamic city; a city which, for well over a thousand years, has been something of a Mecca, attracting talent from outside and offering opportunity within. In order to continue to prosper, any healthy city requires a built environment that provides good quality housing, the integration of Nature and green spaces at its heart, walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods, good public transport and an identity that fosters pride and a sense of belonging. The most successful cities and the most popular neighbourhoods within those cities all share these qualities in abundance. It is these qualities which attract so many people to London not just for the opportunities it offers, but because of its mid-rise nature, its human-scaled streets, squares and parks and its series of diverse walkable neighbourhood 'villages' that foster a strong sense of community.
London’s success in this respect shows no sign of abating, and it is this increasing popularity which needs to be so urgently addressed. The organization, "Future of London", reported that, in 2012, the average house price in London was already twelve times as much as the median income in London, and this year the average house price is ten times the annual salary of a primary school teacher a huge rise in comparison to two decades ago, when the average house price was 2.9 times a primary teacher’s annual salary. The National Housing Federation estimates that in only six years time the average London house price will have risen forty per cent to £650,000. This isn’t sustainable and risks driving away talented young individuals who are starting their careers in London and spending most of their income on rent. Home ownership for this generation is seemingly becoming further and further out of reach.
As today’s Housing London report states, it is widely accepted that this challenge should be met with an increase in housing supply across all tenures. How best to do this, and where, is a matter for significant debate.
However, far from seeing this as an insurmountable problem, I can't help feeling that London is superbly and uniquely placed to tackle this issue by drawing on what already works so well in many parts of the city. When facing the enormous challenge of housing London we need to ask Ì¶ what do people like about London; what seems to have worked really well in the past and is still working well now? At the heart of any solution should be how to make the best of this wonderful city available to more Londoners.
When considering this matter, it strikes me that many of the best parts of London not only have human-scaled streets, but are actually densely populated as well. As today’s report notes, these areas are dominated by mid-rise terraced houses and mansion blocks, typically between five and eight storeys. It seems these height ranges meet the perfect balance between good streetscape, high density and allowing the right amount of light at communal space. Of course, London is not the only city to find this balance and a typical Parisian mansion block, often arranged around a private courtyard, generally produces around ninety-two dwellings per acre. Mid-rise buildings of between five and eight storeys make ecological sense too as they are more adaptable than high-rise, easier to build out of natural materials, are easier to repair and still work for people when the lift is broken or there is a power cut - an interesting point always worth remembering! On the building side, mid-rise buildings also allow a greater diversity of developers and builders as the initial outlays required by high-rise buildings make it the business of relatively few. For these reasons, I am greatly encouraged by the report’s central recommendation that we should consider mid-rise as one of the key solutions to London’s necessary expansion. Evidently, there is no single solution to this critical issue, but I would have thought there was enormous potential in taking the traditional mid-rise housing model and adapting it, in a timeless and durable way, to tackle the demands of twenty-first century population growth.
Of course, when considering how London can continue to grow in a manageable and viable manner it is vital to remember that how we plan and build our towns and cities has a significant effect on people’s physical and mental well-being. Although I fear it has sometimes been neglected in the past, few areas more directly impact people’s quality of life than the quality of the place in which they live.
It is this quality and affordability that I am so proud of in places such as Highbury Gardens on the Holloway Road, we've just heard all about it, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year. My Foundation partnered with Elliot Lipton (who I am so delighted to see here today) over seven years ago now to partner in a bid to develop a number of English Partnerships sites. It won ‘Best New Place to Live’ in the 2012 London Planning Awards and ‘Best Affordable Housing Project’ at the Evening Standard’s New Homes Awards. The project was for a range of 120 flats, sixty per cent of which are affordable. What impressed me on the visit was the way one lady, who was a social housing tenant, spoke with such passion about how lucky she felt having been given the opportunity to live in such a beautiful place and how she felt the quality of the building had a direct relationship to her well-being.
And it was this point which struck me as so revealing when I visited Tottenham in the aftermath of the riots in 2011. Young people whose incredibly difficult lives had been turned around by my Prince’s Trust that I met on that occasion - told me that one of the most important issues at the heart of the rioting was the environment in which they lived. The alienation and social dysfunction caused by high-rise blocks of social housing in post-war peripheral housing estates is, I think, now evident to most people; it is why I feel so strongly and did do thirty years ago, that we must build places which combine market-rate and affordable housing seamlessly, and create places where people actually want to live, that are built with an eye to enduring appeal and where, for example, people can walk from their house or flat to the shop and to the local school. This contributes a great deal to the creation of durable, contented and productive communities.
Indeed, I have always believed that we should draw on local experience, wisdom and knowledge in the planning and development process, consulting those who actually live there, and offering real choice and insight about what can be achieved. Earlier this morning I visited Ham Close, in Richmond, where my Foundation has been working with the Council and housing partnership, bringing together the residents to ask them what it is that they value about their community and how it could be improved. Rather than consult after these decisions have been taken, residents and others are having an opportunity to shape thinking at the earliest stage.
Not only can this type of approach to estate regeneration improve the quality of where people live, but it can also help to address London's increasing need for more homes. My Foundation recently commissioned a study which showed that regenerating housing estates like Ham could provide an additional 300,000 to 400,000 homes in London which is roughly nine years of housing supply.
As we increasingly face pressure to tackle the challenge of housing London, I do very much believe we should look at the examples of mid-rise homes which are capable of making beautiful, enduring and mixed-income places that can foster a strong sense of community.
So ladies and gentlemen, the future of London’s housing is in the balance and I hope you will all rise to the challenge of creating a legacy of which we can be proud for existing and most importantly future generations.