Britain can cut pollution and boost the economy by making it easier to live in our best connected places. Owning a car is a necessity, not a choice, for millions of Brits because it is the only reliable way they can get to work. It is clear that people want access to good public transport options. That’s why rents near train, tube, and tram stations are almost always higher. The problem is they are too high because too few homes have been built near them.

In London, where more people use public transport each day than anywhere else in the country, the areas around some tube stations are built at extremely low densities. In fact, merely by building to terraced street density, we could nearly double the number of homes in outer London.

Investment in better public transport is essential, but we also need to make much better use of the transport infrastructure we already have. We don’t currently. Birmingham’s public transport network is actually bigger and more extensive than Munich’s, but fewer people in Birmingham can get to the city centre in 30 minutes or less. The difference is that in Munich more people live in mid-rise housing where the fast public transport links are.

Higher densities do not have to mean imposing tower-blocks either. Many of the most beautiful and desirable bits of our great towns and cities are built at mid-rise density, like the six-storey mansion blocks of Marylebone and the tenement houses of Edinburgh.

Housebuilders could profitably build at these densities in Britain’s high-cost cities. In fact, in places like London, Cambridge, and York house prices are around two to five times more than the cost of construction, which means new homes can unlock large amounts of value that can be used for new transport links, public services, or social housing. The problem is they can’t get permission to do it.

New Zealand shows us an alternative. Under Jacinda Ardern, NZ’s Labour government reformed planning rules to automatically approve any building up to six-storeys high on streets near city centres, commercial hubs or rapid transit stops in six major cities. This policy followed a similar reform in Auckland that led to a housing boom and cut rents by a third. A similar fall in London’s rents would save a couple £6,000 a year.

Building attractive mid-rise housing near fast transport links would cut carbon emissions, improve air quality, and make it easier for people to afford to live within commuting distance of the best jobs.


Automatically allowing six-storey developments near stations in unaffordable cities

To get more homes built in the right places, the next government should replicate New Zealand’s approach. New National Development Management Policies, created by the recent Levelling Up Act, should be used to create an overwhelming presumption of consent for new six-storey developments within walking distance of stations and business hubs in cities where house prices are more than 7.5 times local incomes and not enough housing has been built so long as they meet certain conditions.

First, there should be no net loss of green space. Second, all new housing should be built to the highest energy-efficiency standards feasible and offer low-carbon heating options. Third, all new buildings should be built to a design code developed with local people getting a real say on design.|

Using our capital’s land better

London has the most unaffordable housing in the country; a one bedroom flat in London costs more on average to rent than a three bedroom house in any other region in Britain. There are large swathes of land in London which are within walking distance of its more than 600 stations, yet have bans on building new homes.

Park Royal Industrial Area is a sprawling collection of warehouses surrounded by 11 underground stations, Acton Mainline station on the Elizabeth line and the soon to be Britain’s biggest train station, Old Oak Common, yet building new housing is banned on large parts of it due strategic industrial location designation.

There are more than 1,420 hectares of golf courses (including 565 hectares of publicly owned golf courses) within walking distance of train or stations, busy bus routes, and town centres. Allowing housebuilding on just half of these sites at modest densities could deliver more than 30,000 homes, while allowing for the creation of genuinely open spaces for Londoners to enjoy nature, walk their dogs, and exercise.

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should work with the Mayor of London to update the London Plan to allow development on more of the Park Royal site, while identifying replacement industrial sites with good connections to the strategic road network. Metropolitan open land designation should be removed from golf courses near train and tube stations. Development should be allowed when it delivers a 25% net gain in biodiversity and leads to an increase in genuinely public outdoor space.


Letting homeowners extend upwards to fund green upgrades

When bills are high, investments in insulation often pay-off quickly. But some of Britain’s older, but also most attractive, buildings face two major barriers when trying to cut their energy use. First, there’s cost. While cavity-wall insulation is cheap, solid-wall insulation isn’t and takes longer to pay for itself. Second, there’s red tape. We rightly try to preserve our architectural heritage, but Listed Building status and Conservation Area rules can prevent green upgrades.

Heritage should not be a barrier to cutting bills and emission. To make it easier to retro-fit older buildings, the National Planning Policy Framework should be updated to create a presumption in favour of development for sympathetic single-storey upward extensions when they are in keeping with the building’s original designs and improve the building’s energy performance. In the parts of the country where house prices are in excess of build costs, this would give homeowners a strong incentive to undertake major green renovations.