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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 14:54 GMT
Shaping the UK urban renaissance
As part of a series looking at the future of housing in the UK, Dr Nicholas Falk, director of regeneration company Urban and Economic Development Ltd, looks at the challenges in sustaining the current rapid regeneration of Britain's city centres.

Beetham Tower
Beetham Tower in the Deansgate area of Manchester will include 219 residential apartments (Picture: Spinoza Kennedy Vesey PR)

Over the last decade or so, there has been an astonishing turnaround in the centres of our major cities, and an upsurge in the number of people living in apartments at relatively high densities.

Many have won design awards, and are attracting a new class of people to live close to their work, often in flats rented from investors.

However, once a broader perspective is taken, a very different picture emerges.

Achieving an urban renaissance means stemming the urban exodus, and tackling polarisation along the main transport corridors.

Most places need a wider series of rungs on the housing ladder.

At present there are vast gaps between social housing (much of it for those living on benefits), low-cost, terraced housing in neighbourhoods that often look neglected, inter-war suburban semis that are losing their appeal, and on the edge look-alike estates in places that are inaccessible without a car.

Key issues

There are several questions to be answered, including:

  • Recent research has shown that most of the new residents in urban areas are young professionals or students. Should we provide the facilities young families want, such as schools and safe open space?
  • Most industrial towns and cities find it hard to get developers to go for quality, rather than playing safe with standard house types. The demolition of surplus terraced housing is proving controversial. How can we reinvent the image through stylish makeovers?
  • Rising house prices deter first time buyers, and house purchase loans have risen to unsustainable levels. How can city regions learn from European experience in making cities liveable for all?
  • The suburban semi has served us well, but new homes are needed to give young households a start, and to enable older households to move. What should they look like and where should they go?
  • The strong demand for moving to the country, and the weak state of manufacturing, is causing many towns to lose their balance. Local people complain their towns are turning into dormitories, with increased congestion as people drive ever further to work, schools and shops. What should the vision be for smaller towns, and how should competing demands for space be resolved?
  • Solutions

    To overcome these and other barriers, city regions need to plan creatively across networks of towns and in areas where change is more likely to be successful due to attractive features, for example the Lea Valley in London.

    Development frameworks need to incorporate policies that encourage the right balance. For example new high-density housing near town centres could help release suburban family houses for growing families - the key is making better use of existing infrastructure.

    Charters as a result of action planning and based on previously successful examples can engage local people in improving their neighbourhoods, and agreeing principles for sustainable growth and well-managed use of resources.

    House builders will get away with sloppy layouts and standard house types if they can, so councillors need to be shown more examples of places that really work. Standards need to be tailored to local circumstances.

    The key to mixed uses and living at higher densities, is avoiding conflict through good design, regular maintenance, and responsive management.

    This means making a budget available that communities can use to build a "pride of place", something that will give them concrete proof of prosperity, possibly through a charge on new developments.


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