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Friday, March 03, 2006
Density (again)
More news today in the trade press about the housing density debate. CABE has said, in its response to the PPG3 consultation, that it thinks the national minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare should be scrapped as it is leading to the development of crap edge-of-settlement housing and too many flats, which doesn't help create a socially mixed community as it attracts too many young couples who move on as soon as they want kids.

I wrote earlier this week about how misguided it is to measure density of occupation in dwellings per hectare as opposed to habitable rooms per hectare, and if we change this, how it would effectively get rid of precisely this problem. But the answer is not to scrap minimum densities, with the return to ecologically unsustainable, sprawling development that this would generally entail.

I would, however, make an exception. If a carbon-neutral development was proposed at less that 100hrh (about the equivalent of 30 dph), it should be allowed through. The reason for this is that I'm currently looking at models of carbon-neutral development for rural areas where energy is generated locally and potentially through means such as biomass rather than wind or solar. This starts to imply interesting new forms of lower density development.

The other point is that we should be much more serious about linking non-city development to public transport. A fundamental justification for density guidelines is to make people drive less. Well, a high-density development miles from a bus stop or train station isn't really going to make people drive less. In the very rural area that I'm looking at for my hypothetical study, there are only six railway stations but the entire new housing quota for the local authority over the next ten years could be accommodated within ten minutes walk of these stations at a density of only around ten homes per hectare. So, in this case, low-density development is highly sustainable.

What's my conclusion? The primary requirement should be a link to public transport. Edge-of-settlement development should not be allowed, even at high density, unless all sites near public transport are used up elsewhere. (This is more radical that it sounds, when you consider that may rural stations are in the middle of nowhere, not in the centre of towns.) Secondly, in rural areas, be carbon-neutral. Thirdly, go to hrh, not dph, to take away the excuses that developers currently have for poor quality design and ethic-less planning. Then lets see where that gets us.

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