What Can We Do About Hollow London?


There is growing concern that middle-income earners are being priced out of living in central London, neither able to buy or rent. This is creating a sort of Hollow London, with many parts of the capital unused or owned by only occasionally present foreign buyers.

This problem in our capital city is growing more severe as land values rise and rents become ever more unaffordable, forcing key workers, the younger generation and those on middle incomes further and further out from the centre of London.

In a bid to tackle the issue, we are delighted to launch our new compact living solution for London: Town Flats.

These compact flats will be for rental only, so cannot be sold on by speculators; they will be part of a building that will also have communal areas for working and entertaining; and they will be built in partnership with local authorities, making best use of currently redundant public sector land, which will remain in public ownership.

U+I has been working on the concept of Town Flats for quite some time, building and testing two prototype flats in our headquarters in Victoria, alongside architects AB Rogers and Manser Practice.

We believe we have created a compact living model that provides part of the solution for London's Housing crisis, by helping to bring younger working age adults back to central London.

To celebrate the launch, and open up the debate around compact living, we hosted a panel event addressing the property industry, public landowners and local London councils with the question: What can we do about hollow London?

The panel was chaired by John Elledge, columnist for the New Statesman and Editor of CityMetric, and panellists included: Sir Edward Lister, Chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency; Steve Lucas, Economist for the Development Economics; and Naomi Smith, Executive Director for Campaigns at London First.

U+I Deputy Chief Executive, Richard Upton, opened the event by telling everyone it was time to do more: "We have spent an inordinate amount of time talking to policymakers, landowners and anyone else who shares our ambition to breathe life back into central London. And now we're trying to make our vision a reality. We want you work with us on Town Flats. We want you to build with us. We want you to help us revitalise London."

He went on to say that: "The issue of Hollow London is more than just a development opportunity. We're conscious of the consequences of what will happen if we fail to act. Not just in terms of London's universally known housing provision problem, but for the city as a whole."

During the panel, the theme returned again and again to the need for disruptive solutions to "build more bloody homes". All panellists seemed to share the feeling that London's housing crisis had reached a crucial tipping point, and stressed the urgency for new thinking.

Steve Lucas, from Development Economics, commented that: "I think perhaps the property industry has shied away from the levels of innovation and disruptive thinking that perhaps the sector needs to consider. The scale of the challenge and the future demand, especially with the changing structure of society – which means more people will want to live in single flats – means we need change and innovation to deliver solutions."

Naomi Smith, Executive Director for Campaigns at London First remarked: "People locate to London because of its culture, because of its vibrancy and this hollowing out of London is an incredibly important concern for business. It's becoming an issue for recruitment, retention and talent and businesses are really beginning to struggle.

We're headed towards becoming a city that is filled with older people. It's no longer nurses and teachers that we're worried about being priced out of London. Frankly, looking at recent figures, it's now doctors and lawyers."

Sir Edward Lister, Chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency noted that: "We [the property industry] continue to produce the same thing, and therefore we always get back to the same problem. So, the market has to be shaken up, it is ripe for disruption. Towns Flats is a disruptor and from my perspective: great! The more disruptors the better, as with each disruptor we get closer to genuine solutions."

In the lead up to the launch event, U+I worked with Development Economics on a report, 'A new perspective on Compact-living', to compare the social and economic impacts of Town Flats with more typical central London developments.

In the report, based on an assumption of locating five Town Flat developments sites in each of the nine inner London boroughs, the key economic findings are as follows:

  • Town Flats would house 3,555 more working age adults than typical accommodation on the same sites
  • Town Flats would deliver an additional £202.5m of household expenditure a year
  • Town Flats would support 1,035 more local jobs
  • Town Flats would provide 4,770 more homes

You can read the full report here.

Following the launch, we are now looking to work with public sector bodies to make this happen, and bring life back to hollow London.

Watch this space.