Sian Berry: Higher density should be the future of housebuilding

Building higher density in London will help reduce emissions and protect the green belt, says Sian Berry AM.

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Developing more homes of higher density in London is ‘key’ to creating a sustainable future for London.

Speaking exclusively to 24housing, Sian Berry AM said better integration with transport is also needed to achieve best results.

She said: “We need to make sure we concentrate high density around places that have good transport links.

“We need to be planning in walking, cycling and transport links into new developments and that if you are going to be developing the Thames Gateway for example, and you don’t develop all the homes and then think about public transport, you need to do the two things together.

“We also don’t want to have developments that breed car dependency, out in East London and out towards Essex we have a lot of car dependency. There is a lot of things we can do when we integrate those two things together.

“It is about integrated planning, this is the rule of sustainable development. Things must be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

“To be truly sustainable, you need to have all three of those pillars. So it is about planning everything so it is integrated and thinking about people’s behaviours when they move into homes.”

Berry, who performed well above many outsider expectations in last year’s mayoral race, said London is “way behind” other parts of the country in terms of making homes more energy efficient.

“We have traditionally been very slow at doing things like putting in insulation and terrible at things like solar panels. We are way behind lots of other areas in the country, we have seen councils such as Huddersfield putting solar panels on council homes since 1999.

“We have not had anything like that in London. We have got all of these Victorian terraces in London which are poorly insulated.

“A lot of these are private rented so it is not possible for them to do the renovations themselves and no incentives for the landlords to make the improvements.

“One thing that is good from the Mayor’s plans is that he wants to keep the requirement for zero carbon homes going in London.

“It does cost slightly more to build but the reductions in carbon, reductions in running costs for the people who live there are just huge. You also improve the longevity of the home too.”

And although she acknowledged there are “a lot of things to think about”, the results are worth it.

“If you do design with your green hat on, you get a good quality home and one that doesn’t cost much to run, so it is win-win for everyone.”

As well as being an Assembly Member, she is also a councillor in Camden, where the first PassivHaus designed homes in London are.

She said the completely different style of maintenance means more education is needed with these homes.

“It is a lot of maintenance you are not used to with a gas boiler and radiators. There wasn’t a lot of information given to the new council tenants moving into these new flats and we had to commission a new booklet to be given out to the new tenants of these homes.”

When asked about building on the green belt, Berry immediately replied “we need to absolutely avoid that.”

Adding: “The extra homes that we need to build, we can fit them into London and we should make sure the planning rules don’t say it is okay.

“If you say it is okay, that will incentivise developers to build on that land first. If you relax the criteria lower than ‘in exceptional circumstances’ all it will do is increase the time big housebuilders will build on green belt as they don’t like to deal with brownfield land.

“Until we have used every scrap of land in Central London, we can’t even relax those restrictions. We need to continue to incentivise people to build inside London and not in the green belt at all, right up until we have built everywhere we can.”

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