The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in West London this month, will invite questions about high density living. The event happened whilst one London Borough was having a Local Plan Hearing. A key part of the Hearing was a review of the Green Belt and the adequacy of housing numbers provided by the Borough, in their emerging new Local Plan.
While the GLA accepted that the Borough only needed to meet a minimum housing target set by the London Plan, they nevertheless sought to argue that the Borough Council should find even more housing capacity from their chosen allocations. Many of these allocations were on brownfield sites. A review of these sites showed that the consequences would be even higher level of housing. How could this meet the reasonable aspirations for those looking to live and raise families, seemed an irrelevance to the proposed Local Plan, but also a matter seemingly oblivious to the GLA.
At the Hearing were representatives who argued that forcing people into high density was an abdication of social and environmental responsibility. These objectors were not professional planners but local people concerned for the social implications of the proposed strategy. They brought to attention, a simple truth, namely that there is a duty to plan for people with typical aspirations, for decent living space and easy access to open space.
I have sympathy with this view but get frustrated by the self serving environmental spin, encouraged by politicians, to protect the Green Belt. They will do this at the expense of decent living standards for those who have little choice of where they can live.
A more compassionate approach
I was struck by how this review Local plan could call upon formula to justify high rise. Objectors were rightly frustrated they had no formula to counterbalance the case for a more compassionate approach to living standards.
The issue of construction safety is one matter that has become urgent to review but the debate will be now become wider. The more high density living is pushed to the fore, the more adverse social consequences will become inevitable. The Mayor of London should know, and certainly by now, that protecting Green Belt votes, with the quest for higher and denser living standards, is plainly wrong. It’s not just an environmental issue anymore, but one of social morality. Everyone has a right to basic living standards and these should count over those who want to protect their views and property value.