The Budget Plan for Crude Upzoning will Make London Like Kabul – And Kabul recognises it’s a Disaster @sajidjavid @GavinBarwell

Nick Boles new Book

The relatively low density of English cities stems in part from the welcome presence of large parks in our city centres, but mainly from our greater reliance on two-storey houses rather than the multi-storey apartment buildings that are common on the continent. To maximise the use of already developed land and the associated infrastructure, we should introduce a new permitted development right for any residential property in an urban or suburban area but outside a conservation area. This should allow the addition of one or two storeys up to a maximum of four storeys without the need for planning permission but subject to a design code specifying architectural style and materials so that the character of an area is maintained. Pimlico and Kensington are some of the most desirable and expensive parts of London. They are characterised by four and five storey terraces. There is no reason why building up to this level should blight an area. People could use the new freedom to add bedrooms for a growing family, to build granny flats for elderly relatives or to create separate living space that can be let out to tenants.


Developers and home owners would be allowed to extend the height of properties without planning permission, under plans being considered for the budget by the Chancellor.

Philip Hammond is weighing up proposals to relax planning laws to enable houses and blocks of flats to be raised to the height of the tallest building or tree in the same area without the cost or delay of seeking council approval.

The “build up not out” plan, which is backed by several former ministers, together with David Cameron’s ex policy chief, is being pushed by MPs as a way to help solve the housing crisis without building on greenfield land.

It mirrors similar proposals originally made by Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, and George Osborne, Mr Hammond’s predecessor, for homes in London, and offers a solution to an impasse between the Treasury and No 10 over proposals by the Chancellor to relax rules restricting…

 Earlier this year I was in Kabul meeting the Mayor of Kabul and Minister for Housing, talking about the desperate need for zoning in the City.  Interesting to be fed in the bombed out palace (designed by Albert Speer), which you can also explore in computer games like ‘The Phantom Pain’.
It has a Soviet era masterplan, recently updated by the Japanese, but no Zoning laws.  The civil war caused the population of the city to double, with influx from the countryside and hostile areas meaning that two families typically occupy a house built for one.  In those parts of the city where certain clans had got favorable aid and other contracts there was a chaotic picture as plots originally designed for one house were now randomly occupied by anything up to 15 storeys – typically without lifts and built to zero safety standards.  I have seen the same situation in many emerging economies where there is some money (believe me I have seen far worse in some cities, in places like the Congo) where there is none.
Except in places like Britain with strict planning controls but little positive planning the poor will find housing, as the landowners will always find a way of providing it and extracting rent.  However with a lack of zoning and zoning enforcement it produces chaotic results.  Kabul’s population should be absolutely capped as there is no way to provide a water supply and sewerage system for more than 3 million people (its population has now exceed that) so rightly it plans another New Kabul nearby in another river catchment, but without the money to build it.  Informal upzoning here has simply encouraged more rural urban migration in a city which does not have the infrastructure to provide it.
Boles and Co are right to consider that Britain’s Cities need upzoning, but adding two storeys will make every neighbourhood like Stamford Hill, ironically the London Neighbourhood most like the situation in emerging economy cities given its average household size.  if done on a large scale it would require the expensive upgrading of London’s aging water and sewerage systems.  London had it easy for several generations as its populations declined, meaning we didn’t notice as it creeps up again its infrastructure limits.  Even though if London approached again the population it once had, 9 million (we are only now 300,000 short), that still leaves  another 5 million houses to find over the next 20 years.  Doing this without any loss of greenfield is almost impossible – consider the figures i’ve produced on this blog.  For the implications of the new London Plan producing a predicted overspill of over 1 million dwellings.
  • 1,260,000 dwellings = 10,500 40 Storey Tower Blocks Hong Kong Worlds Tallest urban agglomeration has 1,303 = up to 7.9 Hong Kongs of Tower Blocks Do we want to see this Asian Style Vertical Sprawl?

  • Evidence strongly that at these densities diseconomies of congestion strongly outweigh positive urban agglomeration effects (Rappaport 2008)

  • Mayor of London – Post Grenfell – looking at alternative to tower blocks in Revised London Plan.

  • At 10 Storey Olympic Village Density – 335 DPH needs 1,791 Ha – 112.5 Olympic Villages, 131.8 Aylesbury Estates – 14.5 sq miles – Westminster=8.29 Sq miles

  • Much greater than All Large Scale Housing Estates in London Capable of Demolition 1,750 HA (Complete Streets/Savills for Cabinet Office 2015)

  • At Least £5 billion cost of demolition plus cost of rehousing – we know post Grenfell nowhere to decant to.

  • At Complete Streets favoured mansion block density 135 dph only capable of 1/5 this number

  • Equivalent to 18 Park Royals at Complete Streets Densities

  • So at Complete Streets densities need to knock down all of London’s Large Estates, All its Strategic Employment Sites and then start knocking down large parts of semi detached London

  • Every City that has tried development on this scale and density in recent years – e.g. Moscow, Harare, Seoul has seen mass protest, mass corruption, failure of developers after mass demolitions, overcrowding from decants and political climbdowns. Unlikely to be possible in a democracy.

Yes lets have upzoning but in a planned way.  this is a wheeze, a gimmick like ‘part q’ the notorious  and failed’beds in cowsheds’ clause which because of its complex and unworkable rules trying to make a development plan rezoning on a national scale has completely clogged up the  planning system in rural areas and likely resulted in a reduction in housing from this source because of the gigantic waste of effort and extra scrutiny given to new agricultural buildings and the colossal waste of officer and agent time.
Boles is right that if your are going to upzone you need to do it in a development code – a form based code, but this code needs to specify not just the elevational appearance but the height and bulk zoning of a site, street by street, to work, with rules which adjust depending on the size of the plot but also the adjacency of other buildings and uses.  Effective zoning codes like this take years to prepare, they are worth doing and I think must be done in british cities as we inevitably move towards a zoning and subdivision based system.  But there are few shortcuts, and all experience internationally suggest that anyone trying to do it with a stroke of a pen or by dictat are thrown out of office unless they happen to rule in an autocracy.

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