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Housing features



It’s not the price of fish that’s bothering us any more

November 12, 2014

There’s one subject that’s in danger of knocking The Weather off the top spot for British small talk. At dinner parties, bus stops and bars around the nation, the conversation will inevitably turn to housing – the bubble, the lack of it, the prices.


There’s a housing issue for every generation. From students crammed nose-to-sock in densely-packed house shares – there to remain well into their thirties – to elderly homeowners still reeling from the ‘bedroom tax’ threat, no one is exempt from the debate. Which is why, at WSP, we’ve been putting our grey matter to the problem.  

We all know the housing shortage has reached crisis point, with demand vastly outstripping supply. It’s a problem we all share, which threatens our economy. A recent survey indicated that two in five Londoners would consider taking their households and talents elsewhere due to the lack of affordable housing – a figure predicted to rise to half all London employees if prices continue to increase. But it isn’t just about houses for us. There’s also a wider question of creating areas where people want to live, with adequate infrastructure and public facilities; cities for the future.

It was this type of thinking that spawned our most recent ‘big idea’.  It’s based on two well-informed suppositions – one, we need at least 488,000 homes in the next decade (this is the actual figure from the GLA, but estimates change) and two, many of our public buildings are in need of some TLC or in some cases, to be completely knocked down and remade for the 21st century.

Well-informed or not, we did check with the public, and London agreed - nearly 60 per cent of Londoners said that our public facilities need to be refurbished. And, as we mentioned earlier, we think it’s safe to assume we all agree we need more homes.

So we asked ourselves why couldn’t a private developer upgrade the local hospital, paying for it – because let’s face it the public authorities don’t have the cash – by building much needed homes on top which they can then sell or rent?

There are a number of examples, in the US for example, of this working very successfully and according to our calculations you could provide around 630,000 new homes across London in this way. That’s all of the 488,000 homes needed until 2024 with some to spare when our projections inevitably fall short. Of course we are aware it won’t be possible to apply this to every hospital, school and fire station, but the potential is so huge that even if one in two or one in three could be targeted we think it justifies further consideration.

This is just the beginning of the conversation. It’s a complex problem we’re trying to tackle and as a solution it’s not without its challenges - political, financial, commercial, planning, design and environmental elements that all need to be taken into account. However our initial findings, discussions with industry and our research tells us it’s worth investigating further.

Join the discussion and tell us what you think on Twitter @WSP_UK and LinkedIn using #brainstopick.

WSP’s full whitepaper can be downloaded here.

Bill Price is director at WSP