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Supurbia – our strategy to increase the speed, scale and quality of housing provision in London’s suburbs – builds on their inherent advantages. It uses existing infrastructure and preserves the individuality of homes, easy access to private outdoor space, verdant environments and wider town settings while increasing both density and amenity value. 

With homebuyers and renters being continuously pushed out from the dense central boroughs, London’s suburbs become ever more important. As Central London’s vibrancy and accessibility spreads into zone 3 and beyond, Supurbia can meet it by unlocking land in low density developments for intensification.

Our approach is twofold. The first strand focuses on the local main streets, collaborating with local authorities to refigure parades of shops offering minimal housing as mixed-use places. This would provide not only higher density low-carbon housing in a range of typologies along public transport corridors, but mixed uses to better fit the intensifying neighbourhood. The size of such sites invites a range of uses, including Private Rental Sector (PRS) development, purpose built student housing and affordable first time buyer flats.

The second strand of our proposal addresses the streets of semi-detached housing behind main roads. With an estimated 24% of London’s land classified as rear gardens, suburban plots consume a disproportionate amount of land. The typical suburban plot, 8m wide and 40m deep, often accommodates no more than a two storey house with a footprint of 7.5m by 6m.

Whilst once the suburban ideal, such plots became unappealing through loss of original character, as front gardens are converted for parking and verges and trees are lost to hardscaping. Moreover, changes in household makeup mean that ever fewer households really benefit from their space. Nearly 40% of owner-occupier households (often ‘empty nesters’) have at least two spare bedrooms, while sharing groups who increasingly rent suburban homes rarely take full advantage of large gardens. 

Supurbia offers the opportunity for the owner of a single semi-detached house, or a pair of neighbouring or facing owners, to develop their land to suit their needs through a range of options, including flats over garages, mews houses, town houses, small apartment blocks and bungalows. Each option would have pre-approval through a shared neighbourhood engagement process, and off-site manufacture would deliver highly energy efficient homes with minimal disruption. Land would thus be intensified while preserving buildings’ individuality, and owner-occupiers could unlock the equity in their unused land and invest it in their home, raising the quality of housing across the neighbourhood and improving the street as front plots are renovated as part of development. 

Our illustrative block begins with a density of 33 dph. If a quarter of all plots added one dwelling, the density would increase to 45 dph. Through the Supurbia strategy, we believe we could intensify 10% of outer London boroughs every 10 years. Assuming a mere doubling of density per plot, this realises 16,800 new homes per year, or 40% of London’s projected housing need for the next 20 years. 

To minimise resistance to development and ensure it is delivered appropriately, a co-ordinated approach is needed to realise benefits for all stakeholders. Supurbia would therefore bring together local authorities, designers, developers, offsite manufacturers and local residents to collaborate on local development orders (LDOs) for suburban blocks considered suitable for intensification. In this way, residents would understand from the outset how construction would be managed and benefits delivered, and would have early input on materials palettes and design options, creating unique neighbourhoods reflecting the character of their communities.

Analysis of plots would produce sets of suitable solutions for intensification of back garden land and redevelopment of existing buildings, indicated on ‘plot passports’ comparable to outline planning permissions. These would incorporate planning considerations such as sunlight/daylight, back-to-back distances, retention of valuable trees and suitable amounts of open space, and could give guidelines on how to reinvest a portion of gain from development into improving the environmental efficiency of main houses. Each passport would contain a range of parameters and solutions for intensifying back garden land and redeveloping existing buildings. 

Landowners could select a pre-approved option or customise one within the set parameters, either developing their land alone or including neighbours. This concept builds on the current approach of both permitted development rights and forthcoming zoning for brownfield land. Local authorities would provide additional amenities as intensification reached agreed thresholds. Each improvement will have been agreed through the LDOs and tied to income generated through the development process and additional council tax revenue.

Our vision enriches limited suburban housing stock with a spectrum of options. Instead of the undifferentiated one and two bedroom homes that dominate many large scale developments, this will include family homes with gardens, investor PRS schemes, accessible ground floor older people’s accommodation and affordable starter houses for young professionals. Plot passports will enable local authorities to agree parameters on the range of sites within a neighbourhood, optimising quantum and mix of development. This provides opportunities to speed investment from custom build to small investors and builders. 

To support this, we anticipate that Supurbia will develop online catalogues for homeowners to choose high quality, pre-manufactured yet durable housing options exceeding London SPD standards. Groundwork can be minimised through the use of lightweight structures. These techniques will maximise speed and minimise inconvenience of construction, helping to preserve existing communities and taking full advantage of the pre-existence of all necessary infrastructure. 

Supurbia makes room for niche developers that already specialise in custom built or pre-manufactured houses to grow into the market and work with local authorities and communities to continue the development of housetypes. This takes the onus of easing the housing crisis off large-scale speculative development, which often faces huge obstacles in terms of funding and community opposition, introducing a steadier stream of housing supply into the market. In addition, it champions the needs and characters of local communities and preserves the qualities that make London’s suburbs so popular, while combining them with the vibrancy and convenience of the city centre.

Start Date: 2014

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