YIMBY Signs

We often asked – and ask ourselves – what makes someone a YIMBY.  There are many more around than people realise, but there are clues in the name – “Yes in my back yard” – which will help identify us.  Here is a quick check list of signs

Saying where something should be built

The ‘Where’ question.  Easily overlooked, but YIMBYs will be looking at maps, and say where any development is to go

Looking for something good in their back yard

YIMBYs will think about how there could be more houses in the towns, streets or villages where they live. Proposals for mini Utopias somewhere else, for other people who’ll not be members of their own community, aren’t really YIMBY.

Arguing for what people want

YIMBYs want to build where people want to live or work, and the building they propose will be well designed, so people want to live or work in them. This is helpful, because it means that they will attract high prices or rents if available on the open market.

Locally high housing costs are a sign of where people want to live. YIMBYs are therefore interested in working out how people already living in such attractive areas will buy into new development rather than oppose it. 

Looking for what is achievable

On the financial side, YIMBYs are accept that some homes will be sold or rented at current market rates.  This helps make developments financially viable, and pays for new local infrastructure and social housing.  However, land is too expensive because how much is allowed for development is controlled, and the owners of what is allowed can get a price reflecting its scarcity.  When discussing policies, YIMBYs will be arguing for:

  • more land to be released for development
  • higher density allowed on existing land
  • a fairer share for the public of the increase in land value when it is developed

Problems with "Preservation"

DebbieDance.png

February 28th, Debbie Dance, Director of the Oxford Preservation Trust, gave this talk

"Building a positive future for Oxford: is preservation a dirty word?".

Follow that link for it on line - it's well worth watching.  If I have one criticism of it - and this isn't really fair - it would be the dearth of overall numbers.  It's not fair, because it wasn't the time or place, and if necessary, I'd imagine the OPT could give estimates of future demand for housing and transport.  But a failure to engage with numbers will be part of why those identified as caring about environment and planning just find themselves being patted on the head - here is Debbie Dance gesturing accordingly at 1:01:10

I'll pick out just two more moments, in reverse order, so second, at 18'39'', Debbie Dance comments that it is hard for her, looking out from the tower of St Mary's, to admit that Hockmore Tower, near the proposed Templar Square really isn't such a problem.  Admitting the hard to admit is the start of how intractable problems get resolved.  Not sure if it was hard for the Oxford YIMBY in her audience to admit that many of her views were the same as his, and not really NIMBY.

Before that, at 9:31, she describes the origins of the Oxford Preservation Trust, when William Morris, the "Bill Gates of his day", was "about to put a car in every drive".  I suspect he also projected big, overall numbers, as will his heirs today

Your Autonomous Vehicle is outside

And there are overall numbers in this, about the planning of Oxfordshire's Transport

For example, it is recognised that the Oxford region has been very successful in adding jobs, but not houses.  The consequence identified is that getting about on Oxfordshire's road at critical times amount to joining a traffic jam, and hoping it's not going to be too unbearable.  That will be because the places available for people with those jobs to live is at some distance from Oxford itself, or even its 'Knowledge Spine'.

LlewelynMorgan1.png

There are also references to the vast newly available data sources, such as twitter and mobile phones, which among other things have saved on the annoyance of conducting roadside interviews.  Thanks to research done by partner organisations, there is also 'use case analysis' of how people experience the system, and barriers to different ways of getting around, such as lack of toilets at Park & Rides, lack of cycling spaces, and not yet integrated ticketing on buses.  It would probably be too much to ask for numbers on how much changes to these would change how much road is needed, but I would expect someone will have done the modeling.  The impact of the East West train line will also be taken into account, but is not mentioned.

However, the impact of autonomous vehicles, which are seen as the future

LlewelynMorgan2.png
LlewelynMorgan3.png

is estimated with some precision, although uncertainty is also admitted

LlewelynMorgan4.png

That's just the saving on road space.  There's also a reference to people not needing their own car parking space, since the presumption is that automated vehicles (AVs) will be used in the same way as a taxi service like Uber, and a vague question raised about what that will do to need for space.  So there is this image of a housing estate of the future, being developed in Culham, where an app is telling someone their AV is outside

LlewelynMorgan5.png

Those sketched in blocks, however, look very similar to today's housing, so I suspect the model is not looking at possible changes to the capacity of space for housing, and other developments, with the same attention as it is to road space.  The routes along which people are moving all, admirably, show cyclists and pedestrians too, but we don't see anyone going along paths which are dedicated to these more active travelers.

That imagined housing development also looks rather new, but almost all the work done for AVs will be re-engineering our existing roads, to the extent that they need this.  This raises the question why land which has already been developed, at low densities, with the idea of a car in every drive, cannot also be re developed at higher densities. That leads on to asking what the models are which give the numbers for growth that you can't fit in Oxford - and the assumptions about trips which that leads to.

It feels as if the people thinking ahead about transport, especially those looking at AVs and similar advanced technologies, do numbers, while those who focus more on planning and the environment don't do so as readily.  That is likely to have consequences for how Oxford grows, and how welcome that growth will be.  It will also have public health impacts, according to how much people rely on cars of any sort, rather than get walk or cycle.

LlewelynMorgan6.png

Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal

This £215m offer to the region's authorities has now been formally accepted by all of them. Good news, so now to the development of a joint statutory spatial plan. The next milestone is a "Statement of Common Ground", due the end of March, with further steps towards the adoption of a JSSP in 2021 set out in the deal.

This should condition all major development in the region for decades to come, with plans for new transport links and infrastructure leading. There will be plenty more to be said on this, and much currently being said on transport options. We support those which encourage people to live healthier lives, with less time spent commuting, which in itself encourages sustainable economic growth, but going into details will be for another time.

Actual Densification

The basic YIMBY position - that we need more well planned located housing - isn't controversial until it comes to saying what well planned and located means.  In fact, we say much the same as many town planners and economists - that we don't want the urban sprawl which ends up with people being forced to spend too many hours of their lives stuck in traffic.  But, since UK cities have sprawled, with relatively low densities previously seen as normal, or even desirable, the challenge now is as much densification of currently developed areas, as developing new areas. Oxford is like many other cities in this regard, but also lucky in being a very attractive place both to live and work, creating opportunities for well planned new development, linking in with, and helping to fund, new transport infrastructure.  This is why the Housing and Growth Deal makes sense, but while headline battles will be over its implementation and developments on beyond the region's built up areas, it's worth looking at how densification, for better or words, happens anyway.

We would like to be systematic, and one day, with a lot more background research done maybe we can, but here's a snapshot, triggered by just one of those small planning battles, where local residents take their fight against a new development all the way to a planning committee, and come away disappointed. In a way, we do too. This is about how things could work better.

Here is the case - "Application Number: 17/03400/FUL, Erection of 2 x 4-bed dwelling house (Use Class C3). Provision of car parking, bin and bike storage", 
with the application here, and the planning committee minutes here, but these are just episodes in how this part of Oxford is changing. The bigger question is how is should change, and how to make this happen.

In fact, there was a much bigger application for this site in 2014, which would have involved demolishing three original early 20th century semis along the nearby Northern by pass,

Densification1.png

and putting up four 1 bed and eighteen 2 bed flats, with six 4 bedroom houses on the site of the more recent application, to the rear of the houses on the by pass. This was refused, went to appeal, and lost there by the developers. There's no reason to question the legitimacy of that result, since developers, planners and planning inspectors have to work within the rules as they are.  However, this site is now 4 minutes by car, and 7 by bicycle, to Oxford Parkway Station, and trains going into London, as well has being serviced by good bus routes and very cyclable Banbury Road going into central Oxford. It is exactly where densification should be happening, and if, thanks to Oxford's balance of dwellings policy, it is only four bedroom houses which get approved, it will consolidate the process of all but the very rich being priced out of North Oxford.

However, Harefields, the road immediately north of the by pass, has already been developed as more modern townhouses,

Densification2.png

although at just under £1,500 p.c.m. to rent, not that cheap. Given the location, flats there aren't going to be, but they will be affordable for many more than the new houses which have just been given planning permission.  I've not dug out the details on why those town houses were allowed, but on the face of it there seems to be a contradiction in the effective application of planning policies.

It's fairly easy to say what should be happening for sites like this - the development of mini-Masterplans, at the level of individual streets, or maybe postcodes, where the houses look out onto each other, and have similar issues of access.  Such Masterplans would specify design standards for densification, of houses, roads, walking routes to bus stops or local shops, cycle tracks, and how community infrastructure levy and Section 106 money would pay for these. In this case, there is an obvious crying need for funding cycle routes to Oxford Parkway!

Densification3.png

New Builds are coming - and better transport connections?

Time to think about the second part of "The New Builds are coming: Battle in the Countryside"

YIMBYs want more well planned housing - and well planned implied well located too.  This documentary showed how our planning system tries to do this, in the context of prevailing views on what good planning is, and cultural attitudes towards housing types and ownership. It's a commonplace now that not building houses has led to the current crisis, but the headline grabbing numbers - in this film a price tag of £800K for a new four bed house - are more a reflection of low interest rates. High rents per sq. metre are a better indicator of the long term shortage of housing - and they show in the Oxford area. So the film rightly focused on the efforts of town planners, such as Hannah Smart, explicitly thinking about building "new mini-Utopias", envisaged to last up to 300 years.

NewBuilds2_1.png

A major concern is that people living in new builds should become part of a community.  Although the focus was on the town planning, it was nice to see an opening shot of a local vicar going door to door in the chaos of a site still under development, with newcomers from all over the world, doing his bit to build a community. It would have been interesting to see how the physical designs emerging from the planners's work helps or hinders his work, but it's hard to say without an idea of what is a successful community. In its absence, when planning a new build on the edge of an existing town or village,  it's natural to go with taking that community as the local model of success.  Hence the concern from the outset in the plans for Long Hanborough, to blend in as much as possible, with only the more traditional housing up against the existing houses.

Another consideration is that too many people may mean "that precious thing, a blossoming community may not happen"

NewBuilds2_2.png

which is why the planners told Hannah her original plans would need to be scaled back, with an immediate hit to the profits of the developers - and in this case, it seems, also the landowners. I need to check, I think the landowners here will be the Blenheim Park Estate. It sounds as if, rather than just take the quick profit on selling to developers, they have retained a long term stake. In any case, any hit to profits could also be seen as a missed opportunity to fund better local infrastructure, and affordable housing.

NewBuilds2_3.png

Until the last two minutes of the film, there was no mention of public transport, and none for the Long Hanborough development, even though there is a station 1 1/2 miles away with regular services into Oxford, with a journey time of 10 minutes.  According to Google Maps, it would take seven minutes to get to the station by bike, five minutes by car - although traffic hold ups getting through the village might increase that at rush hour - and half an hour walking. Instead the discussion of how people will get to these new builds assumes that they will drive

NewBuilds2_4.png

That may be, but it would be interesting to know what thought was given funding enhancements to safe cycling and walking routes through the village to the station, and enhancements of the station itself.  Something to look into. If planned for a less car dependant life style, higher densities should have been possible, and with it more funding possible for associated infrastructure.  It would have made the new build less in keeping with the existing village - here is the road along which new-comers will go to get to the station

NewBuilds2_5.png

Eventually this housing may be redeveloped at a higher density, but developing Masterplans for existing whole towns and villages does not happen in our planning system.

Here is where access to public transport does eventually get mentioned, not for Long Hanborough, but Longford Park, a development on the edge of Banbury.  So not really within the Oxford housing market area, which is where we prefer to focus, but it makes the point well.

NewBuilds2_6.png

I didn't pick up whether this young couples interest in the possibility of getting into London was to do with one of them working there, but other couples in the film are shown with young families, in Kingsmere helping form a community with campaigns for decent road crossings to the local primary school. Even if people do move somewhere because of good train links to London, it doesn't mean they or members of their household don't contribute to a community.

Here, I'd also be interested to know if any thought has been given to better pedestrian and cycle access to the station,or does that come as an afterthought? As of now, this couple are thinking only of driving, but cycling is almost as quick

Cllr John Cotton's New Builds Are Coming

NewBuilds1_1.png

This BBC2 documentary, first part shown Wednesday evening, and available here on iPlayer

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09qmrsj/the-new-builds-are-coming-battle-in-the-countryside-series-1-episode-1

is essential viewing. There's lots which could be said about it, but the role of John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council stands out. In the still above, 14'47'' in, he is explaining exactly why some locations, in spite of being designated Green Belt, are suitable for development. It's tough being a Council leader, but John Cotton gives every sign of being able to handle it.  Curious though that SODC does not see land to the south of Grenoble Road as also suitable, while discussing the user of compulsory purchase orders for Chalgrove Airfield, even though it has no such good nearby transport links.

NewBuilds1_2.png

The ? top left is the land south of Grenoble Road, the ? bottom right is Chalgrove Airfield.

Compulsory Land Purchase at existing use value

I'm looking for more details on this from the shadow housing secretary, John Healey

Labour plans to make landowners sell to state for fraction of value

It looks like an over dramatic headline for a widely advocated policy of having a state agency, here a new "English Sovereign Land Trust", buy land for development at the price it would have without any possibility of being developed. It's something like what happens in Germany, and is one of the most straight forward ways to capture the land value uplift which comes from granting planning permission for the public.

It raises a few questions, although some of these may come from the way it has been written up, with the stress on acquiring agricultural land for building council houses. That suggests out of town developments, rather than denser housing in existing cities, which is where younger people are normally more interested in living, and where they are less likely to require cars as part of their daily lives.

There's also the question of how this Land Trust would work with local authorities - in South Oxfordshire, would it go with John Cotton's decision to develop Chalgrove, or would it overrule him and go for the land South of Grenoble Road?

The Guardian gives a calculation of how much the cost of developing a two bed flat in London would come down - £130,000 - which suggests that it would hit urban property owners, rather than just big agricultural land owners, but  according to the Independent these powers would only be applicable to "larger, undeveloped industrial land",beyond farm land.  There's aren't so many such sites in high demand cities such as Oxford, to its property owners can probably relax. 

That's probably enough questions already, but an important overall question is how much it would speed up the building of new homes, where they are needed.  Reducing overall cost to development will help, but they will still need to be properly planned.

Can Oxford be twinned with anywhere in Germany?

However good the German way of capturing land value for the public, it also has housing shortages in the cities where people want to live.  Here's a map showing this - thanks for this link goes to @geographyjim

Germany1.jpg

But they might also have some better ways to deal with the problem. The picture below should, of course, be the recently built single storey Waitrose on the Botley Road. In fact it's in Berlin.

Germany2.jpg

German discount grocer Aldi has become the latest player in the industry to realize that putting apartments on top of its supermarkets can help smooth the process of building bigger new stores in crowded cities.

Aldi Nord is working with the Berlin authorities to build more than 2,000 apartments above its stores in the booming German capital, where a housing shortage has sent prices surging. Some of the apartments could be set aside for students or social housing, which can help persuade city officials to give the green light to building projects.

Now Germans Can Live at Aldi as Well as Shop There

The Oxfordshire Deal: Planning, Infrastructure, Housing - Saying YES

The "Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal" has to be welcomed.  It sets out the terms by which Oxfordshire, the city and the surrounding districts, are being offered £215 million by central government.  Click here to download a copy.

The bulk of the offer - £150 m - is for "infrastructure to unlock key housing sites", with £60 m for affordable housing directly. The other £5 m is "to boost capacity to get a joint plan in place".

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Council show some signs of wanting to continue whatever negotiations led up to this, and have council meetings this week - February 14th & 15th to vote on it. However, the deal states that 

"it does not alter any of the statutory functions, duties and rights of HMG or Local Planning Authorities, and in particular the functions of the Secretary of State in relation to plan-making or decision-taking. Nor does it imply any favourable treatment for any specific scheme or plan"

...

64. Should any authority/ies choose to walk away from the deal process at any point before full agreement is reached, then the outline agreement will need to be reviewed. In this instance, it is likely that Government will choose to withdraw from the deal.

65. Unless and until the joint statutory spatial plan for Oxfordshire is produced, submitted and then adopted, all existing plans and national policy continue to provide the basis for decision-making in Oxfordshire.

66. This deal does not allocate land for housing. Site allocations will be agreed through local plans subject to the inspection and examination process.

so reasoned local assessment of actual development proposals will still happen. On that basis, the deal should be agreed. Oxfordshire is being given another chance to plan coherently.

Joint Statutory Spatial Plan

The core of the deal is a joint spatial plan, which should be drafted by October 2019, and adopted by March 2021. This will indicate where 100,000 new homes across Oxfordshire could go, and so where the infrastructure to support them should go. It makes perfect sense for the bulk of the money to be for infrastructure. Investment in roads and rail attracts subsequent investment in housing, and the choices made determine how sustainable new settlements will be. Investment in existing plans, such as rapid transport systems, will also attract investment into densifying existing developed areas, which will tend to all the more sustainable, encouraging people into less car dependent life styles. The Cambridge - Milton Keynes - Oxford corridor is seen as suitable for development, and more housing in it is to be expected. Whether this will be supported by a road "expressway" or the planned East West rail link is going to be a major part of the reasoning to follow the adoption of the deal

Strategic Infrastructue Tariff

This is interesting:

39. Oxfordshire should consider introducing a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff (SIT), which could help to capture additional land value uplift created by the development process. As a first step, the local authorities should undertake a viability assessment across the area to determine whether a SIT would be viable across Oxfordshire and to estimate its potential revenues.

40. In order to introduce a SIT, Oxfordshire would need to put in place the appropriate governance structures and mechanisms, at the appropriate time. Oxfordshire will now work with HMG to further explore the potential of this proposal, and the governance arrangements required to support it.

It's too soon to speculate about how this might work, but the principle that land value uplift should be captured to fund infrastructure is sound, and if done well, means that far more will be available for infrastructure investment. The planning and preparatory work will be more important in the long run than the headline figures.

"Barriers to increasing supply in local housing markets"

This also is interesting

47. Government is keen to understand the barriers that can hold back development and prevent new homes from being built. HMG wants to have strategic dialogue with local areas and partners about how we can work together to deliver additional homes faster. This includes better understanding of the barriers to increasing supply in local housing market areas.

We agree, and have already been calling for a study, based on a case by case analysis, of the flow of development opportunities through the so called land pipeline.

Getting the new housing we need: where’s the problem?

Let's have the evidence about where problems lie, and prioritise how we deal with them accordingly.

And the rest?

Actually, it's all interesting, since it should provide a structure for developments in Oxfordshire for decades ahead. Read it, and see what interesting you in particular!

The Planning System giving us bad planning

The leading housing website Inside Housing reports today that "Homes England will make the first use of its new compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers to bring forward a stalled 3,000-home development in Oxfordshire if it cannot reach agreement with a company which owns land on the site."

https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/homes-england-warns-it-will-make-first-cpo-if-necessary-for-3000-home-scheme-54078
 

The site in question is Chalgrove Airfield, the bottom right ? here:

NewBuilds1_2.png

while the ? top left is the area south of Grenoble Road where Oxford City council would like to see (some of) Oxford's unmet housing need met.

To think Chalgrove is a better place for new housing, you have to buy into the idea of people wanting to live in relatively small, isolated, inward looking communities - by their advocates called garden cities.  We don't, but to help make this happen, there are Green Belts - here that area of stippled green between SE Oxford and Chalgrove. But it doesn't happen.  People who live out beyond the Green Belt, if they have cars, will tend to be burning unnecessary fossil fuels commuting, and requiring all the more tarmac, while those that don't get stuck in social deprivation. More homes in places like Chalgrove are what you get from the expertise of people who understand planning as it is, rather than from experts who plan for objective goods, outside the planning system's own conceptual world, such as how much greenhouse gases get burned, how healthy people's lives are, and last but not least, where people actually want to live, rather than where other people would like them to.

Where would you build? The Botley Road?

One of the starting points for Oxford YIMBYs was an idea of Richard's, WhereWouldYouBuild.com

BotleyRoad_1.png

which allows anyone to suggest where the new housing Oxford needs could go.  The second of the IT heavy project we are thinking about is a development of this, making it as realistic as we can.  However, unaware of this, as far as I know, one of the many local experts we have identified got back to us this week with his suggestion of where to build - all those warehouse sheds along the Botley Road.

BotleyRoad_2.png

I'd not actually thought of it myself, but with the hugely inefficient use of space shown here, and the encouragement they give to car trips along the congested Botley Road, it seems an excellent suggestion. My immediate thought was to wonder who owned the land, how long the leases were, and then what reason people who know about planning might come up with for why it couldn't happen.  I don't have answers to these yet - that's the point of the first of our IT projects.

We'd also want to know how much traffic on those sites would produce, which would depend on what sorts of housing it was, and how much of it would determine the financial contribution it could make to better public transport and cycle lane provisions along the Botley Road. Some rough estimates for these would be built into the updated version of Richard's original idea, so that as well as saying how much of Oxford's housing shortage people's ideas meet, we could also say whether they would work financially, if planners and others could get their acts together, and. maybe more importantly, they impact they would have on carbon emissions, and public health, which is something of a hobby horse of mine!

How not to frame the discussion

The leader in today's Oxford Times frames the housing discussion as 'the city's heritage value against its housing crisis', and concludes that it is time to protect its "finest rare tranquil corners". It's good that it recognises that there is a housing crisis, but assumes development cannot enhance heritage value. So much for the efforts of an entire generation of architects.

Monday last week I found myself as a guest on Radio Oxford, with one of its regulars, Penny Faust of the Oxford Council of Faiths.  Like so many, she was painfully aware that there is a problem for young people, but not sure what is to be done about it. Official data on housing has focused for too long on house prices, helping to frame the wider housing debate as speculation about where prices will go next, when it would be much better framed as how much people who don't play that game have to pay to live here. Another Oxford YIMBY told me recently he'd been in Manchester, and reflecting on how much more space for his family he could afford if he moved up there.  Here's what Zoopla has to say:

Zoopla_1.png
Zoopla_2.png

Oxford

Greater Manchester

Roughly, renters here pay 70% more for a three bed flat, and more in % terms for smaller properties. Of course, renters pay this premium because Oxford is such an attractive place, but it is their landlords who get the financial benefit of its attraction, and employers will also be paying premium office rents.  It is this attractiveness is why Oxford is growing, and not because growth is being foisted on the area by central government.

There are many fine tranquil corners in Oxford, which deserve protection, even though they are not that rare. Recently I've visited Wytham Woods, where the University makes serious efforts to encourage visitors, even though it is a site of such scientific importance, as well as beauty. I also visit St. Sepulchre's Cemetery from time to time, which has its own beauty, and graves of eminent Victorians, now largely ignored. Many other tranquil corners can be see from aerial photos, but not publicly accessible.

Zoopla_3.png

Thinking of these spaces, and then the price renters pay to live near them, I find myself reflecting on the supposed rival ethical claims of keeping Oxford just as it is, and making it somewhere which can be appreciated by today's generation of renters.

Letter to the Oxford Times

Buses should be appreciated as part of the solution to congestion, if we want people to go into the city centre at all.  A fully pedestrianised centre with few people is of little use.  We need to consider bus service and pedestrianisation together, along with the restricted geography of Oxford.  Bus service would attract more people out of their cars if it got people to where they wanted to go faster by being allowed to use the main straight paths through the city:  High / Queen Street and Cornmarket / St Aldates.  By allowing buses to get through the city faster, there would also be fewer of them in the city at any one time, and less pollution.   I would hope current or near-future hybrid technology would allow them to travel this short distance on only electricity.  Car usage needs to be discouraged and cars are more able to negotiate narrow winding streets, so they could be restricted to a loop around the centre (with exceptions for special needs).  Then the rest is available for potential pedestrianisation.

Prof Susan Cooper

 

Letter to the Oxford Times, March 20th

I share Bruce Ross-Smith’s worry that houses built in the Green Belt adjacent to Oxford will be used for expensive houses not affordable for most people working in Oxford, especially in locations with good transport links to London.   However it makes more sense to put needed housing for Oxford workers there rather than out in distant villages.  What we need is a way to make it the right housing.  Requiring that 40% of housing will be for social rent is good, if it can be enforced, but without other financial input, private developers need to balance this with getting maximum profit out of the rest.  A large gap is left between social housing and market rates (or its near equivalent - the 80% of market rates which has been allowed to steal the meaning from the word “affordable”).  That middle needs to be filled with housing that is for “Oxfordable” rent – affordable to Oxford workers, which the city should define in some reasonable way, perhaps proportional to the average Oxford salary.  

Extraordinary permission to build on Green Belt land to meet Oxford’s housing should be coupled with measures to ensure it achieves that.  Local authorities should be granted or allowed to borrow funds to build social housing.  Then the private developers could be required to provide a good proportion of “Oxfordable” housing, with a push towards higher densities to keep per unit costs down.  Terraced houses and blocks of flats can be attractive places to live if well designed with soundproofing and balconies for the flats.  The higher density achieved would also help support public transport for the area, which needs to be planned in, i.e. central roads wide enough for busses and bus stops.

'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