Advisors promote sustainable housing target

UK advisory group recommends concentrating new housing in urban areas

A British official advisory group has called for three-quarters of new homes in England to be built in urban areas. In a report issued today, the group says that its target is practical and will bring environmental, economic and social benefits.

About half of housing development is already in urban areas. The UK Round Table on Sustainable Development now says that this proportion could be further increased by half. It says that local government has "significantly underestimated" urban land available for housing, including both the 60,000 hectares of derelict or vacant land in England and also urban land that is "poorly used or underused".

The round table describes its target as "ambitious", but says that it can be achieved - if the government leads the way, if local government is "proactive", if private sector developers participate "whole-heartedly" and if the wider community is involved. The group recommends specific measures that the groups should take in order to achieve more sustainable housing development patterns.

Chief amongst these are to alter planning and fiscal rules so as to encourage development in towns and to discourage it in rural areas. The round table suggests imposing a levy on "greenfield" developments, subsidising urban development, and making a variety of taxation changes to encourage greater use of the existing urban housing stock.

The round table was established by the UK government to encourage discussion of sustainable development issues and to involve diverse social sectors in the debate. UK environment minister, John Gummer, is one of its co-chairmen.

Today's report is designed to influence a lively national debate over how to meet future housing needs. According to government estimates, 4.4 million new homes will be needed in England from 1991 to 2016, partly due to population growth, but also caused by social changes such as later marriage and more frequent divorce, which are leading to a progressive decline in average household size.

In this, the UK is far from unique in Europe. According to Eurostat statistics, average household size in the UK fell from 2.7 to 2.6 people from 1980 to 1990, a reduction that was matched or exceeded in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Spain.

Follow Up:
UK Round Table on Sustainable Development, e-mail: References: "Housing and Urban Capacity".

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