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Using Infill Development to Alleviate London’s Housing Shortage

It is well documented that there is a housing shortage in London.  To overcome this deficiency, it is estimated that as many as 49,000 dwellings will need to be built every year to deliver enough housing for this growing population. This is a target of 1.5 million new homes by 2050.

To put this into perspective, one and a half million homes equates to roughly the number of new houses built across the entirety of the UK in the ten-year period from April 2005 to March 2014.

But where do we build these new dwellings?  Approximately 85% of the British capital is classed as ‘built-up-area’. Much of the remaining land is within the green belt, is parkland, or consists of other areas unavailable for development.

There is very little capacity for greenfield housing development in London, and brownfield development sites alone cannot overcome London’s housing shortage.

Which is where infill development comes in.

‘Infill’ refers to the development of vacant or underutilised sites within existing communities. They can be at whatever scale and will have some supporting infrastructure in place.


The opportunities surrounding Infill Development

Social housing estates, in particular those built in the 1960s and 1970s, and which are typically dominated by tall tower blocks often have inefficient layouts and a surprisingly low residential density.

In an ideal world, these blocks would be demolished and replaced with new, more efficient homes with better environments.  However, the redevelopment of these sites is made difficult due the random

distribution of homes acquired under ‘Right to Buy’ in these areas, otherwise owned and managed by councils as affordable rented housing.

There are still opportunities though, as even without comprehensive redevelopment, you can still substantially increase density by developing the areas between buildings and along the edges of estates, as well as by converting ancillary buildings.

This might include adapting garage courts that are no longer fit for purpose, or green areas that are unused.  Some estates have empty offices, abandoned drying areas and underused car parking space.

Many local authorities and housing associations also own small undeveloped areas of land that could be put to better use for housing, particularly at a time when the pressure for new homes is so great.

Building on these sites offers an opportunity to tackle social and environmental problems that may be present too.


How to deliver on Infill Development projects

There are several obstacles to navigate when delivering infill development;

  1. Sites are often small and seem an unattractive option if sold individually
  2. The sensitivities in infill development can make delivering equally as complicated as on large sites
  3. Many sites are owned by local authorities, who cannot facilitate the development of the site on their own
  4. By their nature, infill sites are located within existing communities. These communities need to be inspired and convinced that the development will have a positive impact.

To overcome these obstacles, partnerships must be formed, so that the available sites are developed as a whole.

Local authorities can collaborate with architects to review individual sites and carry out feasibility studies that estimate the number of new units that can be achieved.

Following this, the council can collect the various sites as packages of land, creating a greater number of units and a more attractive package to potential builders or developers.

The developer could be a Housing Association capable of delivering a pre-agreed number of affordable housing units across the package of sites.  In fact, commercial arrangements between public and private entities could help solve the problems of ownership and risk, helping to deliver viable development in town centres. The parties involved can share resources, expertise, land, capital, market knowledge, talent, enthusiasm and commitment.

Finally, people need to be persuaded that increasing local population is good for their neighbourhoods. We must underline the value of increasing the amount of people, how it creates more custom for local shops and brings increased funding for local services. Introducing market and intermediate homes alongside affordable ones can create a more balanced, aspirational communities. The resources are there. We just need to unlock them.