1. Economics
September 17, 2015

Where could London build more housing? The city's population density black holes, mapped

By Barbara Speed

As you may have realised by now, we need to build a lot more houses. In London alone, it’s estimated that we need 62,000 new homes a year to meet the capital’s housing needs within the next decade. The mayor’s office’s current target – 42,000 – falls well short of this figure, as the office simply didn’t see how a higher target could possibly be met. Was it right?

Enter a consultancy and a pro-business not-for-profit. Savills and London First have gathered data about housing density and transport links in London for a new report launched this week, and have concluded that, if we were to boost housing density across all the well-connected, low density parts of London, we could create around 1.4m new homes around the capital. 

Savills, as a real estate services provider, obviously has a bit of a vested interest in housebuilding; so does London First, which represents London business, including developers, as well as a whole host of businesses worried about recruiting in a city with soaring housing costs.

But looking at their map, which cross-references transport connections with housing density, they do seem to have a point:

To create the map, the researchers used Public Transport Acessibility Levels (PTALs), which are banded from “low” to “high”, along with housing density data. They also excluded the green belt, green spaces, lakes, canals and rivers (these appear to have been left white). 

The map could be a little clearer: we’re left to guess that the paler central locations have good transport connections and high density, while the outer reaches of the city are the same colour because they’re low on both. But it’s the dark blue sections that are most interesting: these are the areas of untapped housing potential.

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In the report, its authors are keen to stress that improving London’s housing density doesn’t necessarily mean tower blocks and dystopian concrete villages. Instead, they focus on changes to the planning regimen which could improve density in low-density areas:

As part of this process, the London Plan’s density matrix should be reviewed. The density matrix has served a useful purpose to date by providing planners with a density benchmark when considering particular schemes. However, as it stands, the matrix fails to capture the complexity of London; it implies a ceiling to densities in certain areas which are now in practice achieving higher density. These densities are being achieved without compromising design or quality, which suggests that sensitive reform of the matrix could help deliver more, and better, homes across London. 

(The London Plan’s density matrix is about as complex as it sounds, and like the map above it uses PTALs to dictate density levels.)

So there you have it. If this report is to be believed, we can squeeze a little more juice out of London proper before we need to start looking to satellite commuter towns to house the swelling populace. Now we just need to get on with building those houses. 

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