Post Olympics Districts Named

All pretty safe. The Media Centre/East Wick area still looks a slog to get to by anything other than by car.


The Kilometre High Tower – and Why Buildings This Tall Dont Work in Any City

Chicago Architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill have been confirmed as architects on the Jedda ‘Kingdom Tower’, a 1km high tower the centrepiece of the Kingdom City new town (maasterplanned by HOK). It will be 173m high than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, so it will become the highest building in the world.  Construction will take over 5 years, cost $1.2 billion, and lifts are expected to take 12 minutes to reach the top floor.  Work had previously stopped because of the world financial crisis but will now start immediately.

The floorpace of this one buildings alone will be over 5 million sq’. .  It was planned to be 1 mile tall but local geology could not support it.

From work in Bahrain where a 1 km scraper atop the largest mall in the world was planned I can say with some confidence that buildings this tall are pretty impractical.

Im not saying that because few cities anywhere can absorb as much real estate as a whole town coming on stream all at once.

Nor am I saying that because of the economics of it, the length of time to construct during which you are paying development finance.  The high risks and lack of flexibility and the diminishing returns from multiple and staggered lift cores (this building will have 56) as you get ever higher.

Nor am I saying that because of the disruption of rhythm to a city’s skyline from a buildings that is 4 times higher than Canary Wharf.

No for me the killer is the sheer impracticality of access arrangements. 

This building needs to be at the junction of 2 8 lane highways to provide capacity for vehicles entering and leaving.  Putting all of that traffic at one point, over a conventional peak period (even one that will be slightly spread because of the length of time in lifts) is a recipe for congestion, especially when considering the 23 million sqm size of Kingdom City overall.  The design of the junctions alone to the scheme (see below) tell you this is misconceived.  8 lanes hitting a traffic circle in a T junction – madness.  The masterplan uses road layouts and frontager arrangements that fall apart for schemes a fraction of this size and density.  What is more all of the high density in the new town comes off the same road.

It is crazy planning like this that made planning in the middle east so frustrating, giant schemes designed by amateurs, too busy bigging up projects to see and resolve obvious pitfalls.

The city will eventually be on a high speed train route, but with only a 1,600 passenger per hour capacity it will only have a small modal split.  What is more  the site is too far from Jeddah to be connected by the proposed tram, which in any event would not have the capacity to service this. 


The New Holland Island Competition Winner – Workac

We previously reported on this important competition – for what is probably the most important concervation-led regeneration-led site in Europe – New Holland Island St Petersberg. A project being run by Raymond Abramovichs Girlfreind. Fosters had been kicked off the project. David Chipperfield was one of the entrants (and my joint favorite) but lost out to one of the weaker entrants in my view WORKac of New York.

Was the Fall of the Berlin Wall the Cause of the Housing Bubble and the Global Financial Crisis?

Ever since the start of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007 Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has been saying at every opportunity ‘it wasnt me’

As well as many speeches in 2010 he wrote a 14,000 word paper for the Brookings Institute called ‘The Crisis’

Here he argued that the root causes went beyond the sub-prime crisis to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Transformation of China.

It was the global proliferation of securitized, toxic U.S. subprime mortgages that  was the immediate trigger of the current crisis.  But the roots of the crisis reach back, best I can judge, to the aftermath of the Cold War…The IMF estimated that in 2005 more than 800 million members of the world’s labor force were engaged in export-oriented and therefore competitive markets, an increase of 500 million since the fall of the Berlin Wall

He goes on to argue that this increased labour force has high levels of savings causing a global savings glut, keeping world interest rates down, increasing housing and other debt levels (including sovereign debt).  This global savings glut theory, also held by Ben Bernanke, is controversial.

Some have criticised Mr Greenspan for ducking responsibility.  He certainly does, he cheered on the housing bubble, whatever its causes, and called for ever less regulation of the financial services sector.

Others, such as Robert J Samuelson, have claimed that world interest rates were a historically low period anyway before the fall of the Berlin Wall, following the crushing of 70s scale inflation.

All of this is true, but even with these factors, and even if you don’t hold to the global savings glut theory it is possible to see a clear cause and effect between the ending of the cold war and the introduction of global capitalism and the housing bubbles that triggered the global financial crisis.

The ending of the cold war had two effects.  The peace dividend, which Greenspan doesn’t mention, and global disinflation caused by cheaper products from China.  The first of these effects allowed governments to lower taxes.  The second saw purchasing power for consumers .  Both saw real disposable incomes rise even where wages were static, there was a massive income effect.  People could cover their living expenses and have money left over, which they wished to invest.   The priority for investment for many was purchasing housing.  So people could accumulate deposits more quickly than before and more people than before could afford housing.

Supply could not rise as quickly in the housing market given this sharp uptick in demand, it never can, towns are fairly inelastic, major expansions taking many years and then as likely as not overshooting with excess supply (as thinkers such as Henry George and Homer Hoyt have taught us), hence house prices rose faster than equities and house price rises became exponential.  Mortgage lending became a big opportunity for increasing business and trying to muscle in lenders lowered deposit requirements and lent sub-prime.

But the fighting of two post 9/11 wars took away the peace dividend, but taxes didn’t rise as much, creating a sovereign debt crisis.  But the tax burden did shift.  From 2000-2003 the US Tax burden fell from 33%-28.4% of Gross National Income, but from 2004-2006 it rose to 31.2% of GNI.  (Source:  The Tax Foundation), a rise of 2,7% of national income.

So the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of China did lead to more wealth and investment in housing, a bubble though could have been abated by monetary policy, which Greenspan should have corrected.  But the real trigger in the fall in house prices was the shock of income falling due to the increased tax burden of the two Bush/Blair wars.

Land Registry – £200 Million Lost to Landbanking Scams

The Land Registry has updated its guide on land banking to warn the public about the risks involved in buying land forming part of a land banking scheme.

Jane Allen from Land Registry’s Corporate Legal Services said:

“We know that many investors, living both in this country and abroad, hand over thousands of pounds for land that has little or no chance of being developed. Some companies offer UK land plots from the Far East where the local authorities do not regulate such activities, or are not aware of the high-risk nature of the investment.
“Anybody considering buying land for its investment potential should read our guide. By publishing this updated version, we aim to improve public awareness of the risks of investing in land banking scheme. However, individuals should not assume that we think any particular scheme is a poor investment or that land within a specific scheme is unsuitable for development.”

Last week we uncovered a similar scam of trying to sell near worthless plots in Florida to Chinese citizens seeking visas.

The ‘Cause Célèbre’ Housing Sites – Whether not When

Many local campaigning groups are under the belief that ‘localism’ and the proposed revocation of regional spatial strategies means that they have the option to discard the large and contentious housing sites previously put forward.

Indeed many local planning authorities have done just this.  Either withdrawing plans (even after adoption) or resubmitting plans with lower housing targets which means that the most contentious sites drop off the end of the plan.

As the process of appeal and examination grinds through however it becomes more and more apparent that this is illusionary and many such sites will either get permission on appeal or get allocated following examination.

For the largest allocations in growth areas where planning for urban extensions needed to take place across boundaries there is no clarity on how the ‘duty to cooperate’ will work out.  All we are likely to see is years of further argument.

Similarly for Green Belt authorities where RSSs planned for less housing than household growth and where the residual would have gone elsewhere.  Do these authorities now have to do deals – like the sort conducted between London County Council and Andover in the 1950s?

But for around 30-40% of local planning authorities the abolition of RSS would not make much difference as the RSS simply required planning for local growth needs projected forwards – or thereabouts.  Here they will in the future need to plan for that growth anyway and the latest household projections, except in the north of England, are pretty much the same.  In these areas there is little reason to not press forward with submission of development plans, whatever the outcome of RSS revocation they would have been required to base plan making on the best up-to-date evidence anyway.

These areas have in some cases tried to tweak front ended allocations down to take account of the recession.  But I imagine in most cases inspectors will try to tweak housing levels after around 2014 to above trend to account for recovery and the effects of an increased emphasis on panning for growth.

For site previously preferred in such core strategies then it will be the case of not whether they are developed but when.

Planners know this but is always striking how many activist residents do not.  Take for example a couple of recent cause celebres, Binhamny Farm in Bude and Barton Farm in Winchester (the site of the CALA case).

In the case of Binhamny Farm many local were surprised that the issue turned on 5 year housing supply and that current development plans were way out of date.  They were even more surprised to find that even if the housing market area was found to have a 5 year supply it would have got allocated in a local plan in the 5-10 year phase anyway, it being the most sustainable site.

There seems to be a general confusion over the concept of years of housing supply.  For example recently in Rochford I have seen residents complain that the local planning authority have conned them for not really reducing housing numbers but ‘planning for the same number of houses over more years’!!!

In the case of Barton Farm north of Winchester (famously the Cala Homes site), this was for years a reserve site, well located close to the town centre and outside the most sensitive landscape surrounding some flanks of the town.  It was a preferred site in the submitted plan.  But following ‘revocation’ of rss it was taken out and the plan resubmitted, with a revised SEA rather too conveniently now saying the old SEA was wrong about the site – mid examination (which has been going on since March 2010).  This was complicated by the RSS never having reached formal adoption so we have an out of date RPG as part of the development plan instead.  However this is a good case of how they old legal principle of ‘permitted assumption’ of when structure plans were being updated applies (i.e. you can make the permitted assumption that a lower tier plan is in general conformity if the upper tier plan is in draft form and relies on more up to date evidence).  

In any event even with the revised numbers that site would have slipped to years 11-13 or so, so it would not have to be immediately allocated.  Giving local campaign groups the false hope that it would never be.  Of course by CALAs numbers it should be developed now to meet the 5 year supply, a section 78 appeal just having closed.  A previous planning appeal in 2004 concluded the site was suitable for development but at the time there was no shortage in the 5 year housing supply.  

Next week the long delayed examination of the core strategy will re-open.

With the NPPF requiring an extra 20% of housing many of these arguments could become academic with many sites just outside the 5 year or 10 year horizon now falling within them.

So this is the point for campaign groups.  Tactical measures, and abolition of regional spatial strategies was a short term (and short sighted) tactical measure, will not prevent suitable sites being developed.  All you can hope for is to kick the can down the road a few years hoping that confused central government policy changes will give you a breathing space.  Unless some future central government takes an absolutist CPRE/NT approach of no greenfield development that is the best you can hope for – and I can’t see any responsible government taking such a position, and if they did the build up of housing need would force a u-turn very swiftly.  It is better to argue that a site is not suitable and the housing should go elsewhere on a better site – indeed following the clarification of the Forest Heath case LPAs are required to test such alternatives anyway.

For Barton Farm though, whether or not the latest recovered appeal is allowed, dont lay any odds on this excellent site not being developed in 10 years time.

London Assembly Suggest ‘Double Decker’ layout for Euston/HS2

The London Assembly in its formal response to the HS2 route consultation has suggested a continental ‘stacked’ layout for a redeveloped Euston to avoid the significant demolition to the West of the Station to accommodate theh extra platforms.

Is this feasible in section? Most of the continental examples are of perpendicular crossing stations, I dont know of an example of a stacked double deck large terminus, which would present great engineering challenges. It would have the advantage (not mentioned in the report) of having extra spare space for platforms which could be used eventually as a terminus for HS3 to Bristol and Cardiff – as constraints at Paddington prevent it being used for such.

But an underground terminus would probably mean not being able to keep the existing Euston open during construction (infeasible) or much extra tunnelling and excavation (prohibitively expensive).

You could build an upper level HS2 deck, roughly where the postal depot is now, but that would be at the same level as Hampstead Road (the road to Camden Town), and you would still need to find space for a tunnel portal. You could have an intermediate concourse/retail deck above the existing station and below the HS2/3 station, which would mean trains would be elevated running over Hampstead Road. This would mean a large elevated section of railway running through Camden Town and Primrose Hill (which im sure would get the backs up of the Primrose Hill set) and then you would need to find space for a tunnel portal that would still enable the tunnel to loop over the existing Main Line and North London Line tunnels under Primrose Hill before dropping down at an acceptable radius and gradient to the Old Oak Common alignment. Im not sure this is possible. Although there is undoubtedly space in the area of the closed Primrose Hill Station for a tunnel portal.