The London Irish Town Planners (LITP) network held a seminar in the Urban Innovation Centre on the evening of Wednesday, 19th October. The seminar focused on the topic of ‘Meeting Housing Demand in an Irish and UK Context’ and included presentations from three key note speakers:
- Aidan Culhane, Consultant at WK Nowlan Real Estate Advisors, Dublin;
- Adele Maher, Strategic Planning Manager at London Borough of Tower Hamlets;
- Gerry Hughes, Chief Executive of Bilfinger GVA.
Aidan Culhane provided an overview of how the Irish housing sector is recovering after the economic downturn. He explained that Dublin is experiencing high demand for housing, which is not replicated in the rest of Ireland. It is evident that there is a two-speed economy, with significant demand in Dublin for both the sales and rental markets, whilst there is an over-supply of housing stock in more rural parts of the country and particularly around the Shannon Basin. The WK Nowlan consultant referred to the boom period in Ireland when the rise in housing supply was also matched by the highest rise in house prices experienced across any of the EU member states. In this regard, it was noted that the challenge of providing housing is not simply a case of supply and demand, but is subject to other variables, notably access to credit and wider economic growth.
Adele Maher outlined the challenges that London faces, with estimates that the population of the capital will continue to grow by approximately 76,000 people per annum. This creates a huge demand for homes with a need to build 50,000 new homes in London each year. It was noted that around 59,000 homes are being permitted annually, but a significant proportion are not being brought forward for development. As Strategic Planning Manager for the London borough where the highest population growth is envisaged, Adele suggested that London “needs to look at all options” to meet housing demand, including suburban intensification, selective Green Belt release, industrial co-location and town centre intensification. Further to this, it was noted that one of the challenges for London in building more homes is to retain the diversity that makes the capital such an attractive location from an economic perspective. As an aside, it was noted that a number of local authorities have suffered from a reduction in public sector services, with the impact particularly acute amongst planning staff, thereby impacting on the expediency with which housing applications may be determined.
Gerry Hughes contended that there is “more than enough land to build homes” in London and that the issues are not land supply, planning or finance. The issue is the capacity of the market to deliver. It was noted that London is still a relatively low density city and that there is still regular resistance to densification, which does not necessarily equate to tall buildings. The Chief Executive of Bilfinger GVA agreed with Adele Maher’s earlier assertion that there is a need to review the Green Belt and he suggested that “a structured review of the Green Belt is long overdue”. Such a review could take place on land surrounding major transport nodes. It was advised that two potential mechanisms for delivering more housing in the capital include the Estate Renewal Programme and Housing Zones. It is estimated that the Estate Renewal Programme can deliver up to 8,000 new homes per annum and it was the view of Gerry Hughes that this provides a notable opportunity for real public-private partnership, with viability being the key to delivery.
The LITP Board would like to thank our members and representatives of media outlets that formed part of the large crowd in attendance for this seminar, which marked the third anniversary since the foundation of the network. The LITP Board would like to extend our appreciation to the key note speakers, the chair for the evening (Philip Dunphy) and our generous sponsors, Hepher Grincell, GIA and Ireland Craft Beers.