A few days ago, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and Planning, Caro Wild shared a long thread on Twitter talking about the next LDP.
I’ve linked to the thread below, but it touches on the quandary that councils and urban planners now find themselves in. I feel this requires further discussion, so, here goes…
What an LDP needs to do…
At its most basic level, an LDP needs to identify areas for development that will satisfy the needs of a growing population. This is where ideas about exactly ‘how’ tend to diverge.
You see, after the second world war we entered a period of expansion where many people were able to afford cars, so neighbourhoods began to sprawl horizontally. The benefit of this was that people had places to store their cars…the downside being that you now needed a car to go anywhere or do anything at all. We’ve already talked about this at length, so take a look at one we made earlier.
Once you start to trap people in a cycle of car dependency, you inevitably make them vulnerable to economic shocks…like 2008 and 2020. People are up to their eyes in mortgage, car and consumer debt, but salaries have barely moved at all. Something has to give, but the previous LDP was very much based on this model of car-dependency, even if it did talk about having cycle lanes. Both it and the economic green paper zoned everything so that travel was unavoidable.
Fortunately, there is another way to build a city –higher density, walkable neighbourhoods where people and jobs are all together in one handy-sized package. The new-age term for these is 20-minute neighbourhoods, which Sustrans has a good article about here:
An important objective of the 20-minute neighbourhood concept is to better align spatial planning (i.e. what is in an area) with transport planning (transport infrastructure), to make it easier for people to walk, cycle and use public transport.What is a 20-minute neighbourhood? – Sustrans.org.uk
If that sounds interesting, the Town and Country Planning Association has a series of webinars that you can watch here. However, in short, it is planning as we did in the olden days, before cars made us all drive everywhere.
So, how do you build dense communities? One way is obviously to build high, so you pack in a lot of people into a small horizontal space. Sadly we are writing this after the Grenfell Tower disaster and are all too aware of how quickly things can turn sour. On the 14th June 2017, 72 people tragically lost their lives and dozens more were injured as Grenfell Tower in London was engulfed in flames after a fridge-freezer caught fire on the 4th floor.
The cladding on the outside of the building, made from aluminium and polyethylene was combustible, swapped out from the originally planned zinc cladding to save a few quid. Disturbingly, this cladding has also been found on developments in Cardiff, such as at Prospect Place.
The Prospect Place development, which was built by Bellway Homes but halted for a period of time after the credit crunch in 2008, is made up of 15 blocks of apartments. According to Cardiff council, cladding made from aluminium composite material (ACM) failed tests put in place by the UK government.Cladding on six Cardiff Bay private flat blocks fail fire tests – BBC News
Prospect Place is a pretty recent development in the grand scheme of thing, so it’s not as if this is a relic from the distant past at a time when we didn’t know any better. If anything it is symptomatic of today’s disposable culture. Pile it high, build it cheap, sell it at the limit of what the market will tolerate.
In the current market, a two-bedroom 69 square metre apartment in Prospect Place will set you back £190,000. At today’s relatively low rates of 2.4%, with a deposit of £19,000, you too can have a compact little flat, with your sofa in the kitchen, the washing machine bouncing around behind your head as you’re trying to watch TV. All for £760 per month for the next 25 years.
At 2.4% a £171,000 mortgage may be “affordable”, in that it is roughly what you would pay to rent the same place, but if the interest rates rise by 1% you’re going to be paying £847, 2% takes you to £941, at 5% you tip over the £1000 mark. This is why, at the median UK salary (around £28,000 in 2020-21) for the UK a single person will only be able to borrow just under £130,000 from a high-street lender like Nationwide. That £19,000 deposit needs to grow to about £60,000, plus fees, searches and probably ground-rent too. Good luck with that.
Believe it or not, this is the lower end of the market.
Housing supply needs to increase, but crucially it needs to increase for regular folk, not the monopoly guy who can afford to leverage several dozen properties to sweeten the deal.
Let’s say, hypothetically that we’re going to build high. We’re going to use the best materials that aren’t combustible and we’re going to put them in the city centre. Where do we put them?
The Council has been getting quite a bit of stick lately, mostly from people frustrated that developers seem to be building student flats everywhere; or gutting historic or cherished buildings like those on Guildford Crescent and building a 29-storey carbuncle behind it –or levelling trees and displacing what little wildlife we have left. It has brought us monstrosities such as the Zenith, which really does remind me of Peach Trees in the movie Dredd.
The trouble is, it doesn’t matter where you decide to build in the city centre, there is going to be something of historical or cultural significance not too far away. If you then replace that historic building with the aforementioned carbuncle that’ll likely be rubble or an eyesore in a decade or two you’re unlikely to encourage locals to invest in the area for the long term.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t build in the city centre, but it probably does mean that what you do build needs to be respectful to the history of the area and built in a way that can be enjoyed for generations.
This is not to say that the Guildford Crescent development is without merit. The decision to offer no car parking but enough room for one bicycle per apartment is absolutely the right thing to do, but displacing a number of beloved businesses to build a skyscraper in the back yard seems…wrong.
They say residents would have space to store one bicycle per apartment but there will be no car parking spaces, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.Cardiff tower designs unveiled for controversial Guildford Crescent site – BBC News
It begs the question …well where else would you put it? In all honesty, I really don’t know. In many ways the council’s hands are tied when the owner of the property wants to carbuncle-ise a treasured building –well, apart from refusing planning permission and hoping the decision isn’t judicially reviewed, but where the council is the owner the LDP should look to pounce on vacant or derelict plots before any historic building is gutted and before any tree is felled.
If you’ve ever been down to the city of Bath, you may be aware that most of its buildings are made from a particular type of stone, Bath Stone, following a largely Georgian style. I’m not suggesting that we copy Bath, but I am suggesting we take a look at the historic buildings we do have and see if we can set in place a design standard of our own. Something that looks like Cardiff, but not like something from a William Gibson novel.
A number of other cities have developed their own design standards document, aiming to ensure that new buildings are in keeping with the rest of the city. Meridian, Idaho has one, as does Agoura Hills, California.
Frustratingly, when we do build tall buildings in the city centre, many of them seem to be student accommodation. When you build a residential development, you are required to pay (the community infrastructure levy) to improve the infrastructure for the area and to build social housing. With student housing, you don’t. As the council put it…
Student Accommodation is treated differently to other types of residential accommodation and will not be subject to the same standards in terms of size or amenity of accommodation. The key reason for this is because while the council expect developments to be built for the long term, student accommodation is designed to cater for people who will spend less than one year in theSupplementary planning guidance – Student Accommodation
accommodation before moving on. As such, while the accommodation is permanent, the residents are transient utilising the accommodation for a specific and time limited period of their lives.
Understandably, we’re now doing quite well where student accommodation is concerned, but homes for regular folk, if you can’t throw down nearly half a million for a two-bed flat in St Davids 2, are a little harder to come by.
Personally I’d like to see an LDP where a line is drawn under new student developments; where the land we’ve used for the larger office buildings we no longer need is repurposed for permanent housing and ground-level retail space for small businesses –Manhattan style.
…but without the sky-high rents. Wishful thinking perhaps.
However, I’d love to know what you think. Are we barking up the wrong tree? What would you do with the space we currently have in Cardiff? How would you build on Cardiff’s culture whilst increasing the housing supply for a growing population?