Our manifesto is to change the way we think about our cities
This manifesto was originally written in 2008. Sky-House is the manifestation of this original concept.
To create high density developments that will enable efficient brownfield development to ensure greenbelt and green field land is protected. Urban communities that can walk to all amenities thereby reducing the necessity for car travel creating communities that are healthier and closer..
To create high density developments that are inherently efficient and that facilitate the existence and continued survival of small independent businesses and retailers. Communities that know each other and play together in small urban pockets.
To create high density communities that allows families to live in cities.
Urban living or ‘loft’ living arrived in the northern cities of the UK in the latter part of the 20th century with the arrival of mixed use apartment developments in the shape of industrial conversions or new build projects.
These developments saw the rapid transformations of the northern power cities through the rise of the city living market. The birth of the buy-to-let landlord and the property millionaires of the early part of 21st century were in part sustained by the flow of cheap credit that collapsed in late 2007.
The transformation of these cities is nonetheless impressive and the reality is that city living has proved successful in parts but in other areas has been let down by the proliferation of small apartments that only cater for small segments of the housing market; young professionals and students. The active ground floor frontages have failed due to excessive costs of operation for independent business. These remain inactive on the whole.
The High St is dead through the insistence of out-of-town shopping centres that cater for out-of-town housing developments. We should appreciate that this battle has been lost and take this opportunity to embrace a new era for our towns and cities and provide an alternative future based on old values for a modern world.
Setting the scene
Brownfield land is risky.
The threat of unknown underground conditions creates the need to develop higher densities than Greenfield sites- our cities are full of previously developed sites that can be developed if the right approach is adopted and encouraged without the need for subsidies.
There is no reason why we shouldn’t create cities that are full of houses and homes for all types of people especially families. These ‘new’ cities should encourage small business alongside bluechip business to create variety and interest that is lacking in sterile non-descript car dominant retail developments.
The demands on our historic road layouts cannot cope with more and more out-of-town anything without serious investment in infrastructure. It is a simple solution to transform our cities Brownfield former industrial areas into new exemplar communities through simple understanding of regeneration economics; Change of use creates added value.
There is a solution.
Our cities sprang up through the industrial revolution where factories and mills were built alongside houses and schools, pubs and corner shops. People lived, worked and played together in densities that create interaction.
As these industries grew and pollution damaged everything around it communities left in droves to the post war suburbs of pattern book houses with separation, drives, gardens and roads. These communities were designed around the car and the need to park it, drive it and use it for everything.
There is an ideology that life in the past was great- it wasn’t. Read ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ by Orwell. Our real sense of yearning comes from our perception of the loss of our communities by the disparate nature of modern lives and the distances we are able to travel around the country to our place of work, our place of leisure and through the use of the internet and social media.
We simply need to bring communities back together. We no longer need ‘zoning’ and districts. We don’t need 21m between houses; we don’t need long back gardens and driveways and we most certainly don’t want a long commute. The number one thing you can do in life to make you happy is to reduce your commute.
Some of our most popular houses are terraced houses with small back yards and restricted on street parking. People want these houses. These houses are low-tech and easy to adapt. We don’t need to continue our search for hi-tech solutions of metal boxes and hi-technology that requires hi IQ- some Code 6 houses require inhabitants to have NVQ Level 3 just to live in them!
We have low-tech solutions with hi-tech results.
We don’t have dirty industries anymore so let us bring communities back together; communities of business, leisure, retail and housing- but let it cater for the small trader who offers a boutique service and product.
Thank you Tesco for the cheap shopping trolley of food and products which now includes TV’s, garden furniture and insurance; Thank you for the door to door service which we will all continue to use. But let us now create opportunities for small business to thrive in conditions that are not conducive to the global players. Let us welcome back the corner shop assisted by low business rates and relaxed planning. Let us welcome back the back-to-back house.
The return of the owner occupier
The property boom of the early 21st century and the ongoing crash has led to the lowest levels of home ownership of recent times with many would be first time buyers choosing to rent rather than buy.
The reality is this; buyers want to buy houses, developers want to build houses and banks want to lend on houses not apartments. The problem is we don’t have enough supply of Greenfield land to build houses without losing our Greenbelt..
However, we have enough Brownfield land but as we have seen this is too risky to develop and houses don’t create enough density or value under current planning guidance to add value and to move business away from these areas. Current planning policies also add too much cost to developments- a sector that is already too high risk without the need to add more cost and risk.
By creating hi-density housing developments we are able to create land values higher than traditional housing developments to enable the regeneration of our inner cities.
The double whammy of this is that we can create enough land value to move Industries and businesses out of often archaic Victorian buildings to modern places of work fit to compete on the international stage.
The triple whammy is that we can relocate Industries to more suitable locations with better transport infrastructure.
The quadruple whammy is that we can create central locations for people to work, rest and play without the need for a car reducing the stresses and strains from our roads and our lives.
If we build houses again in our inner cities the property market will flow again and 3million people can be employed to rebuild a new type of city for a new generation of home owners who will love living in their cities. People who can walk to work; pop for a pint or a bite to eat in their new local and a loaf of bread at the corner shop.
People who can afford their own home.
The return of the city
The shape of our new cities will be derived from the person not the car.
We should create tighter street scenes with densely populated communities of tall houses and pocket gardens and play areas; roof gardens and flexible space to do business.
We should reduce the burden of taxation from the places of business and create easy-in, easy-out space for start-up businesses and enterprises that are seen as crucial for a balanced community. We should reduce the burden of rates.
We should level the playing field and expect the out-of-town retailers to pay a higher price for their parking thereby assisting the rate reduction for smaller businesses.
We should throw away the manuals and text books for parking standards, separation distances and gardens and let the Architects and developers create unique and individual places and spaces fit for its context and fit the people who will chose to live there. These are the people who don’t want a box from a National Housebuilder and a 40 minute commute.
We should make these new areas of the city unsuitable for HGVs and deliveries to prevent the return of the bluechips – we should take back the streets and remove signage and clutter and plant more trees.
We should create more open space.
The return of the developer
The developer wants to build something that will sell.
The banks have had their arms burnt and are not interested in the apartment market any more. That’s a shame. Without these apartment schemes the streets of our cities would be empty and more of the shops in our High Streets would be closing.
However, the banks want to lend us more money; after all that’s what they are in business to do but they want to lend money on things which are low risk. Things which are safe as houses…
Developers want to build houses too. First time buyers want to buy houses. Houses are easy to build if you take away the tech. A high density housing model built using low or even high technology will allow developers of all sizes and skill to develop in our cities something people want to buy.
If we develop in Brownfield areas we can add value to industrial land and let our business owners release cash to invest in their businesses making them more efficient. They can move on to more efficient buildings. We can create sustainable neighbourhoods and efficient businesses. Everyone is a winner.
The government and Local Authorities should assist by removing all shackles from the developer; no more section 106 payments, no more affordable housing, no more CIL. Encourage the maverick developer to build houses and make profit but in return they must provide open space. They must provide places for start-up or key strategic businesses that will be equally assisted by the state without the burden of rates. This will give tomorrows entrepreneurs a chance to compete in a world where the blue chips rule today.
The density of these new cities will make public services easier to administer and this should be recognised – 100 houses in the space that 40 would normally use should be rewarded by lower Council Tax. Lower council tax will make disposable incomes more to encourage home ownership and after work spending in the newly created ‘rate-free’ work spaces. Central communal recycling facilities, communal play areas owned, managed and used by the community will create ‘ownership’ and buy in and therefore value.
These houses can be built in brick and block, timber frame, SIP’s, prefab or modular. They don’t need hi-tech solutions to create sustainable results as they are designed to be inherently green. They can be adapted, knocked about, extended, and personalised like their forerunners before… the humble terraced house.
They should only be modern, contemporary in design using only durable materials that will stand the test of time- products that can be easily repaired, replaced or cleaned.
They will be cheap and easy to build; cheap and easy to maintain and vary in design from place to place, city to city to create places that are unique special and rooted.
The houses will have their legal red line plan on the ground- not in the air, not above, below or floating somewhere in between but on the ground. Mortgageable.
There will be a small community management company to ensure that each resident contributes to the upkeep of the communal space. This won’t be prohibitive but will ensure that the residents appreciate the ownership and look after their place. The council will reduce council tax in lieu of this self-sufficiency.
The houses will be freehold.
The houses will have their own roof garden to enjoy the vistas of city with the privacy of being elevated. There will be some parking- not a lot but some; like our Victorian suburbs that work so well. The developments will be designed to discourage the car to encourage the use of bikes and our feet.
They can be built in phases and sold in phases- the developer can enjoy all the benefits of the cash flow this brings as opposed to the issues of building apartments blocks that can only be sold as each block is completed.
They can be bought by investors to rent, social landlords or private buyers. They can have ground floor offices, garages or additional living space. In short they can be adaptable and flexible.
For the owner or occupier these houses will create an opportunity for a lifestyle that isn’t reliant on the car.
People can walk to work; stop on the way home and enjoy a pint, a bite to eat without the worry of parking tickets or drink-drive limits. They can pop into a boutique retailer offering artisan breads, organic foods or local beers- they can buy something that you can’t buy anywhere else.
The houses will offer private amenity alongside communal amenity- play areas for kids to play, seating areas for adults to sit watch and read. Hard and soft landscaped areas suitable for urban living.
The houses will be low maintenance allowing for more free time to enjoy life, the designs will be durable to reduce cost.
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