'Cusping'

Interesting letter from planning consultant Daniel Scharf in the Oxford Times of 18 January

DanielScharfCusping.jpg

to which I sent this response

Daniel Scharf''s 'Cusping' idea (Letters, January 18) is well worth following up. People start thinking about downsizing from when their children leave home, or when they retire, long before they become the concern of an 'All Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People', so what is stopping it? It is natural to want to stay put, keeping in touch with local friends, and in a building with happy memories, but hanging on to 'bricks and mortar' should not be a barrier. Those who see a house as an investment should be able to get an architect to custom a split of their property already, with a financial carrot in the rent they get, in addition to the company. The problem is more likely to come from Oxford's 'balance of dwellings' policy, or regulations applying to Houses in Multiple Occupation. Those who are happy to downsize their investment in property as well will make a tax free profit selling, buying back just one part after 'cusping'. This option will also be more attractive to whoever takes the other parts, if they are concerned to get on the property ladder. 

‘Cusping’ should be a standard part of the business of builders and property managers, and local authorities should be helping make it happen.

Tim

* and a big thank you to anyone who can tell me where letters to the Oxford Times appear on line!

Can we be up front about housing?

Oxford Friends of the Earth are organising an interesting looking meeting Friday Jan 12 at the Wesley Memorial Church, New Inn Hall Street. Both Oxford's MPs will be speaking, and some distinguished environmental campaigners. As they say:

Oxford has committed to cut city greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. The city is also planning a Zero Emission Zone to tackle air pollution, much of which may be in place by 2030. But there are real concerns that we will not meet this target, nor deliver clean air right across the city.

What must the City and County do to change our transport system so that Oxford meets its climate change commitments and delivers safe air quality for us and our children?

For more details, here is the link, Oxford 2030: Working together on climate change & transport

It's all good, but what about housing? What happens if Oxford does get a transport system which means there is safe air for us and our children, but we don't build enough houses for the others, and their children, who will want, even more than they do now, to live and work in such an attractive city? Without addressing the housing issue, such policies will perpetuate Oxford's housing crisis.  Looking at the website of the speakers, Kate Laing of the C40 global network of cities, there is this on land use planning:

Increasing density and containing urban growth - using new tools and policies to increase city density and reduce sprawl through land use planning

...

Land policies and tools to increase housing and improve informal settlements - addressing city growth through increased housing and improvement of informal housing.  

Again good stuff, but it needs to be said up front, not least because new housing, in areas of high demand, such as near the good existing and planned transport connections, will help pay for the new transport infrastructure. It also means confronting the NIMBYish arguments used when any development is proposed close to existing housing.

What should Oxford look like in 2050?

Oxford City Council is consulting on what we all think the city should look like in 2050. Their hope, as they put it

is to create a vision statement  ... that residents, businesses and institutions in the city can sign up to, so that everyone is pulling together in one direction.

It's a big ask, and easy, if so minded, to point to aspects of the consultation with which we disagree. On the other hand, a Council which did not try to look ahead in this way would be failing in its duty to its citizens, and more so would-be future citizens. So, we'd encourage Oxford YIMBYs to register - the link is here

Creating a vision for Oxford in 2050

Citizen Planner: Gamifying the housing system

WhereWouldYouBuild.com was a cool idea Richard came up with a while back, before we launched Oxford YIMBYs. I did some user acceptance testing on it, and we also talked about it with Danny Dorling. Now, at the suggestion of Charlie, with the Ordnance Survey Geovation Challenge, we're hoping to take it to the next level.

An interactive application which would allow citizens to map alternative spatial futures for the towns and cities where they live. The map, following on from www.wherewouldyoubuild.com, would visualise development opportunities using data on existing land use, transport links, land ownership and planning restrictions. Users create sets of alternatives – ‘masterplans’ – which will be scored on a range of criteria, such as housing-need met, carbon footprint per resident, loss of agricultural land, transport network capacity, land value uplift, costs of development and likely delivery timescale. Registered users will be able save plans, share them with other users, and participate in polls to vote for their favourite. This tool, which ‘gamifies’ the planning process, will engage citizens to help them understand what can be done in practice, while giving professionals and decision-makers the ability to assess public acceptance of proposals.

For more, read on - support and comments welcome!

Citizen Planner: Gamifying the housing system

 

 

Letter to Oxford Times - An Historic Green Deal for Oxfordshire?

No one will be entirely happy with all the details of the £215M deal for the Oxfordshire announced in the recent Budget[1], but few will object to local authorities working with central government to help plan our region’s growth.  However, Council leaders are being told by some local groups[2] that a “forced economic growth agenda” is being imposed. Not so. Oxford is a very attractive area, not just because of its beauty, but also because there are so many worthwhile job opportunities in the area. The challenge is to make this growth environmentally sustainable, providing good well planned housing for future generations.

That will require a whole-hearted commitment to new rail, such as the funding for East West rail announced as part of this deal, and acceptance of new local stations around Oxford. It will mean more housing in the near Green Belt, but our carbon footprints can even fall, by allowing higher densities, not only on new sites, but also on existing Oxford sprawl. Better this than dreaming up new settlements beyond the Green Belt..

It also means getting behind plans for better cycling provision, and rapid transit systems. Coherent community support for these policies will help our Councils get the funding for a coherent, sustainable future.  There is an alternative to the housing crisis on the one hand, and an environmental crisis on the other. 

Oxford need YIMBYs, not NIMBYs.

Tim Lund

28th November, 2017

[1] £215m Budget boost secures 'historic deal for Oxfordshire' , Oxford Times, November 23rd 

[2] Letter to  National Infrastructure Commission, cc’d widely,

Letter to the Oxford Times, published Nov 2nd

Chris Church of Oxfordshire Friends of the Earth is right (Oxford Times letters, October 26th). We need a good modern rail link along the Cambridge / Oxford corridor, not more congestion inducing roads. He is right too to stress the improvement of local rail services. But a transport system fit for the 21st century will also facilitate new homes, and which is something to be welcomed. Unlike the homes serviced by an expressway, these homes can minimise environmental impact. They could also provide somewhere affordable for key workers, such as the teachers priced out of the area, according to the Oxford Mail, October 30th - "CRISIS IN THE CLASSROOM: Teacher recruitment 'at an all time low'"

Oxford's housing crisis cannot be forgotten, and it can be solved, starting with a shared commitment to building the infrastructure of a sustainable city. Here, increasing the capacity of Oxford Station is essential, so let's all get behind that.

Flexible housing

Flexible housing

This started off as as an email I sent October 5th to Charlie Fisher, a local Oxford architect at Transition by Design. He suggested it should perhaps be a blog, so here goes.

On my way to my allotment this afternoon, I passed the steel framework for a new building - a school, I think - with nothing else bar the stairs in position. 

An alternative approach to assessing local housing need

The Department for Communities and Local Government has recently published a consultation document, "Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals" which aim "to reform the planning system to increase the supply of new homes and increase local authority capacity to manage growth.". Oxford YIMBY Charles Young, author of "The City that won't grow UP", is suggesting some tweaks to the proposed formula in his response:

The use of just two parameters – demographic growth and the affordability ratio – meets the need for simplicity and transparency. However, there are many possible formulae that could be chosen as ways of specifying need as a function of these two parameters. To be useful, the formula that is chosen should give results that are achievable – and ideally enforcible. If this is not so, then the councils for whom the formula produces a lower estimate of need will be quick to lower their plans, while the ones that have a higher need will be faced with a target that they will probably miss.

The Table below contrasts the build rate for the next decade shown in the consultation table with the one achieved over the last decade, for each region and for some selected sub-regions:

Region

Average Net additions to housing stock, 2006-2016 (Dwellings per annum)

Indicative assessment of housing need based on proposed formula, 2016 to 2026
(Dwellings per annum)

Growth rate

Share of England Total, 2006-16

Share of England Total, 2016-26

London

27171

72407

166%

16%

27%

South East

28438

47958

69%

17%

18%

East

20585

34686

69%

12%

13%

West Midlands

14331

20272

41%

9%

8%

South West

20722

27049

31%

12%

10%

North West

17506

20654

18%

10%

8%

North East

5857

6732

15%

3%

3%

Yorkshire and The Humber

15239

16692

10%

9%

6%

East Midlands

18436

19486

6%

11%

7%

Selected Sub-Regions

Outer London

12058

41368

243%

7.2%

15.6%

Inner London

15113

31039

105%

9.0%

11.7%

Essex

4130

8272

100%

2.5%

3.1%

Hertfordshire

3467

6847

97%

2.1%

2.6%

West Sussex

2911

5551

91%

1.7%

2.1%

Kent

5607

10057

79%

3.3%

3.8%

Oxfordshire

2230

3415

53%

1.3%

1.3%

Hampshire

4186

6311

51%

2.5%

2.4%

Northamptonshire

2802

4009

43%

1.7%

1.5%

Cambridgeshire

2840

3884

37%

1.7%

1.5%

West Yorkshire

6598

7892

20%

3.9%

3.0%

The large and sudden jump in London’s share of total additions to England’s housing stock is probably desirable, but it is questionable whether it is achievable. In particular, the more-than-tripling of the build rate in Outer London looks unlikely to materialise. If these figures are deemed achievable and enforceable, then the proposed formula is appropriate. But if this goal for Outer London is deemed unlikely to be achieved, then the formula should be tweaked to produce results that are more realistically achievable. It is likely that a lower build rate in Outer London will continue to mean that higher rates will be needed in adjoining areas.

One way of tweaking the formula would be to reduce the weight given to demographic trends in determining the estimate, and increase the weight given to affordability. This would give higher figures for cities such as Oxford and Cambridge, where demographic growth has been constrained by the lack of housing, but affordability is particularly poor. Consideration should also be given to replacing the “4” in the formula which represents an “ideal” affordability ratio with a figure closer to the 7.7 which is the actual average for England. More work also needs to be done on defining areas that are greater than local authority areas. The document also says (para.32) that there are difficulties in estimating affordability ratios for wider areas such as existing SHMA areas. While this is currently true, it is surely a relatively simple matter for ONS to recalculate median prices and earnings using other geographical boundaries.

A formula which imposes unrealistic targets on some authorities – as we suspect the current one does for Outer London, and possibly also for Inner London– will make it difficult for the Secretary of State to refuse to defer implementation or to deviate from the proposed method. This will cause shortfalls in the totals which are not compensated by higher figures in other areas.

Charles Young

Denser suburbs are good for us

This blog is a case of thinking globally, but responding locally.  Globally it is about this I found in the Guardian to an article in the Lancet - Planetary Health, working on evidence collected from the pioneering UK Biobank database.

The findings might mean that governments, such as the UK Government, who are attempting to prevent suburban densification ... will potentially have the effect of inhibiting the conversion of suburbs into more healthy places to live.

Locally, it is about the response to Cherwell District Council's proposals on Oxford's unmet housing needs which I'd submitted the day before.  It would have been nice to have had that link, but as it is, our submission can be seen as an illustration of the global issue. There will be many more, around Oxford and other such cities world wide.

In a sense, my response had started with a run from Cutteslowe Park.  Heading north, there is an easily overlooked footpath, which should lead to the Sparsey Bridge over the actual River Cherwell. However, the definitive footpaths are far from clear, and the first time, for fear of trespassing, I gave up, and headed back towards Kidlington. It was all on Green Belt land, none of which is scheduled for development in Cherwell's proposals, and I barely saw a soul, apart from the drivers of two large trucks, shifting aggregate, I think.

On getting to Kidlington, I was in suburbia

Source Google StreetView

Source Google StreetView

with a wide grass verges, and mainly semi or detached two storey houses, with the occasional bungalow.  When reached the main road to Oxford, and knowing that somewhere to the west was the Oxford Canal, I watched out for some signage to it, so I would be able to pick up the tow path for a pleasanter run back.  I didn't see anything,

Source Google StreetView

Source Google StreetView

so ran along the main road, past Oxford Parkway station and its nearby Park & Ride, and then the rather forbidding section of A4165 which separates Kidlington from Oxford, but where the land on each side is proposed for development.

Source Google StreetView

Source Google StreetView

When it came to submitting our response to these proposals yesterday, I thought it best to avoid going into too much of the detail, but instead look at the proposed densities, compared with existing densities, and think about how somewhere like Kidlington could develop a distinctive identity, beyond being the suburb beyond a stretch of car dominated roads.

This took a bit of rooting around for official housing data for so called Lower Layer Output Areas, where I could find five in Kidlington and Yarnton which seem fully developed. For these, the existing densities seem much the same as for the proposed sites, and about half that in parts of Oxford, without there being any tower blocks in these. 

(Maps showing these locations are at the end)

(Maps showing these locations are at the end)

This immediately suggests that nearly twice as many homes could be built on these sites, or conversely, only half the amount of land need be developed. Unsurprisingly, some of these points are also made in CPRE Oxfordshire's response to this consultation, and with more detail, at least on official policy for 'urban extensions' (70 dwellings per hectare), but less on the low density of current developed land - there is just one unquantified reference to this possibility, as applying to anywhere in the Oxford region, preferably within Oxford, one suspects, and definitely not specifically in Kidlington, Yarton or Begbroke. 

CPRE Oxfordshire also make the fair point that if these new sites were developed at such higher densities, the new homes would be less likely to be snapped up by wealthy Londoners, availing themselves of the excellent train service into Marylebone from Oxford Parkway.  But for them this is a debating point. Their logic is meant to conclude that, whatever unmet housing need there might be in the Oxford region, with the highest rent to median income ratio in the country, still nothing needs to change in this particular back yard.

But clearly something does need to change. As the researchers looking at UK Biobank data conclude, living at such low densities is not good for people. One or two people may get out and about walking, or even running, but most will use a car if they can.  If they can't afford to, they will use a bus, but frequent services will not be economic with low housing densities. Instead, houses will be bought up by the more affluent, who can also afford to run a car.  Teachers and other key workers will be priced out, something which may be reflected in the disappointing performance of Gosford Hill School.

As Cherwell District council makes clear, with reference to regional planning documents, Kidlington, Yarton and Begbroke are part of the larger Oxford region.  However, they have their identities, and these need to be developed, rather than eroded.  This is not a matter of still retaining short stretches of car dominated road between them and Oxford, while allowing their outward expansion at existing low densities beyond, but developing their own identities as local centres within a larger Oxford.  The roads to Oxford need to be places where people other than drivers want to be - so cyclists, people waiting for a bus or even the occasional jogger.

The 'do nothing' CPRE approach doesn't work either.  When housing is as expensive in the area as it is, it requires a belief that supply and demand do not apply in housing to say no new housing is needed.  As well as failing to meet the duty of local authorities to co-operate with their naighbours, it will leave the existing problems of this area as they are, if not to worsen.

The deeper problem is that few people, apart from YIMBYs, are thinking seriously about how existing development can be densified, in a way which gets the buy in of residents and planners.  It's why professional planners can produce documents for consultation, such as this, which do not even consider how many more homes can be built on existing developed land.  Of course, market forces mean that some densification happens, although many planners will see this as something to oppose, on the basis of changing the character on an area.  But the character of areas do change, even as we can plan to preserve, even enhance what there is.  In the case of Kidlington, the canal heritage seems almost ignored, as does the very river which gives the local authority its name.  When I came back to find that bridge over the Cherwell, I was delighted to see a kingfisher - which had of course flown by the time I got my phone out.

Sparsey.JPG

Surprisingly, kingfishers are quite tolerant of humans - I've previously seen them on the Cherwell by Magdalen bridge in Oxford - and it bring joy to many more if the whole area could be planned properly, both for humans and others on this planet.

Tim Lund

ProposalsMap.JPG
KidlingtonDeveloped.JPG
OxfordDeveloped.JPG

Comments on Oxford Local Plan Preferred Options

This Friday was the deadline for responses to the preferred options proposed for Oxford's Local Plan, 2016-2036.  The consultation, although trying to be accessible, and get non specialists' views, is still a fairly technical document, and depends on accepting the planning status quo.

There are 101 'options', where the Council makes proposals on planning policy for this period, and for each option, there are several alternatives, with one or a combination marked as the ones preferred by the Council, with explanations.  The Council's on-line response form asks for responses to these options as presented, but this makes it difficult to see the wood for the trees, and in many cases this does not allow us to say what we actually think.

For this, here is a link to our overall response.

The main, unavoidable, comment, is this:

  • Oxford, already the UK’s most unaffordable city, plans to allow its housing crisis to worsen. Surrounding District authorities are also to blame, but as it stands, fewer houses will be built than it knows are needed. This is not acceptable.

Our other key points are:

  • Oxford City Council should report annually on progress towards meeting its housing needs, and the overall level of housing unaffordability.

  • The plan says that ‘developments … should be capable of adaptation for alternative uses’, but many proposed policies would make development less flexible.

  • One example - the ‘balance of dwellings’ policy seeks to tilt the supply of new housing in Oxford against those who need it most. Oxford has become a place to which only the very well off can move.  This should be no part of the city’s identity.

  • Public health, physical and mental, should be at the heart of the plan, and for this a walkable city, with good public transport and easy access to green space is needed. This will be result from developments  of moderate height, and securing developer contributions for the necessary infrastructure.

  • The Green Belt undermines the economics of public transport, and forces people into unnecessary commuting by car, which is bad for their health, and for the environment. It should be completely reviewed, with land use policies to protect sites of greatest environmental value, and maintain the green infrastructure linking the heart of the city with the countryside beyond.

  • Mixed housing on major employment focus developments should be allowed for people needed to work in them, and for key construction workers if development is not to be held up by labour bottlenecks.

  • Target percentages for non-market housing should be credible, and enforced, eliminating behind the scenes negotiations of viability assessments, and allowing development to be completely sooner.

  • Clearer policies on density are needed. Where there is already good transport infrastructure, but also where there will be rapid transit bus stops, and attractive cycle super-highways, higher densities should be allowed, and used to fund this infrastructure.

  • Support for cycling is welcome, with a map of proposed cycle routes, but should be stronger. Support for better public transport, essential for encouraging walking, is even more disappointing, with no explicit references to rapid transit routes identified in the Oxfordshire Transport Strategy.

  • With new train services opening to London, failure to develop the good public transport needed to support Oxford as an employment centre, will increase the extent to which Oxford is a dormitory for London, rather than a place to live for people who work here.

  • In its ongoing search for more development sites, Oxford should identifying areas with fragmented landownership, where it would support their collaboration with architects and town planners to realise greater density and urban vitality.

Each of these probably deserve a blog of its own, and hopefully will get one, so watch this space, as they say.

 

"We’re not really NIMBYs"

I can't find this letter from the Oxford Times, 10th August, on line, so apologies for the quality of my Smart Phone photography

SuzanneMacIvor.JPG

Here's how we'll be responding to the Oxford Times

Not saying anyone is a NIMBY

I’d like to assure Suzanne McIvor (We’re not really NIMBYs, Oxford Times Letters) that Oxford YIMBYs are not calling out anyone as NIMBYs, and also that the setting for our photograph - Christ Church’s Meadow Buildings - had no connection with land they own. It was chosen to show a four storey Victorian development, with additional architectural interest given by rising to five in the centre. It is a valuable part of our townscape, right on the edge of the flood plain.

We agree the need for more housing, and much of understanding planning is seeing where it, and associated infrastructure, should go. One of the lessons planners have learned in recent years is how much traffic problems depend on where development is located. If is it spread out, at low densities, and pushed out beyond a wide Green Belt, public transport becomes uneconomic,and people are forced to use cars.  It’s why we need to plan now for environmentally friendly transport infrastructure which will support the right sort of development, such as rapid transit bus routes.

Not building enough houses means that those we have are too expensive, and lets landlords charge rents which take up over half of people’s incomes. Building only at lower densities will keep housing unaffordable, and mean we lose even more of our countryside, while our children and grandchildren move away to find somewhere else to live.

As things stand, development will benefit some Oxford colleges, and endless debate could be had about how such windfall gains could be better shared, now, or as things might stand in the future, but the priority today is to get the well planned development we need.

For more, please visit www.oxfordyimby.org, or email us at oxfordyimby@gmail.com

 

Oxford's Local Plan

As they say:

Oxford City Council is consulting on the Oxford Local Plan 2036 Preferred Options document. The Local Plan 2036 will become the main planning policy document for Oxford. The Local Plan is important because it will set out how we want our city to look and feel, guiding new developments to the right locations, whilst protecting and improving the environment and people's quality of life. 

All 156 pages of it, with 107 Options they are looking for comments on, and maps of sites for further investigation, and ones ruled out for development.

Inevitably, there's a lot of planning jargon in there, much of it good, some not so good. We are working on our response,  due by August 25th, which will help give us a voice at the public enquiry on the Local Plan, and set out our vision for Oxford in more detail.

We'll also be looking at Local Plans for the surrounding districts, and looking for help from people in them who know the local areas, and share the vision of a strong, healthy and environmentally sustainable region.

Telling Oxford about YIMBYs!

Big thank you to Callum on the Oxford Times and Mail for getting our piece published

Oxford needs YIMBYs

and giving Oxford the chance to see what a YIMBY looks like!

Our favourite from the comments below the line?

Want a home of my own!

Such a breath of fresh air. For far too long the stuffy, elderly, home owning NIMBYs have been telling everyone what to think - whilst only thinking of themselves. Not sure why they are so scared of change or progress, maybe they feel they will be left behind..? But making an active contribution to the next generation is the best legacy you could give.

Please get in touch, "Want a home of my own!" - our email is oxfordyimby@gmail.com, and we're @oxfordyimby on Twitter

Oxford Needs YIMBYs

Our original article published in the Oxford Mail and Times.

Thanks to everyone who has contacted us since then

NIMBYs we know about, but YIMBYs – people who will say “Yes in my back yard” – are new. Those who oppose developments don’t like to be called NIMBYs. They are part of the planning process, as local people should be, with a perspective which should not be ignored. But somehow the new homes, transport, schools and other infrastructure needed for the number of people who want to live in Oxford have not been built, making Oxford the most unaffordable city in England. So Oxford needs YIMBYs – local people who can also contribute, saying where there should be development and what sort.

After moving to London at twenty, I return to Oxford every week. I see the debates and hear what people of my generation say on the subject. Some will admit to being a bit nimbyish, but just as many are potential YIMBYs.  Few are as distinguished as another Oxford native, now living in New Marston, Professor Danny Dorling, who writes:

“Often people around me say that they know we need more housing but why does it have to be in our neighbourhood or on ‘our street’. For me the answer is because if it were here fewer people would need to commute by car into Oxford every day; and the schools, hospitals and local businesses would not find it so hard to find enough employees and keep them for more than a couple of years.”

We remember an Oxford where our parents, without being rich, could bring us up in secure accommodation, giving us a rooted love for the city and surrounding countryside which we hope future generations can share. It is still the city of dreaming spires, and nearby sites of great environmental value, but it is also the home of one of the world’s great universities, with new spin-off businesses, where people will want to live as they start their careers. Without more housing, however, the only newcomers able to settle here will be the world’s super rich.

Among experts, the need for more housing is generally acknowledged. Cities can easily grow while improving quality of life. The urbanism and design consultancy URBED, with the Oxford Civic Society, demonstrated that in a series of debates in 2013. URBED also won the prestigious 2014 Wolfson Prize. Their answer to the question ‘How would you deliver a new garden city which is visionary, economically viable, and popular’? was an imagined “Uxcester Garden City”, growing out from an established city, and clearly much influenced by their work on Oxford.

This year’s government White Paper “Fixing Our Broken Housing Market” stated that “the cause is very simple: for too long, we haven’t built enough homes”. The Oxford Civic Society points out that there are many complex factors which have led to not enough houses being built, but the need more houses where people want to live is not in dispute. However, too many discussions simplify into whether just one of those possible factors, planning is to blame, and then polarise into whether we need a planning system at all. Yes, we need one, but it needs to be more responsive to social changes.

Oxford is unique, but the YIMBY groups which are emerging in other world cites with similar housing crises – London, Cambridge, San Francisco, for example – suggest how citizens here can become part of the solution.  So Oxford needs its own YIMBYs, who understand planning as well as any NIMBY, but focusing on supporting good development.

Richard Hills and Tim Lund Picture by Richard Cave

Richard Hills and Tim Lund

Picture by Richard Cave