Published:

43 comments

John Myers is co-founder of London YIMBY, a grassroots campaign to end the housing crisis with the support of local people, allied with the rapidly growing YIMBY movement around the world.

Is there a popular way to make sure children and grandchildren have homes while making existing homeowners better off and existing places better? We think so.

What if your street could choose to vote, by two-thirds majority, to set its own design code for the whole street and give each homeowner planning permission to extend or replace when they want?

Extending the principles of neighbourhood planning, that would uphold Conservative values of localism, fairness, beauty and heritage, by allowing much more housing to be created with the support of local people. Think of it as taking back control, if you like.

The stunning terraces of Bloomsbury and Bath were not accidents. The landowners set careful design codes. The gorgeous historic centres of our towns and cities, generally with many more homes per acre than places built in the twentieth century, are what tourists flock to see. If residents can set their own design codes for their street – perhaps picked from pattern books, like the Georgians – they can be sure the result will improve on the existing.

Adding floors to existing houses will create room for growing families or allow terraced houses to be split into maisonettes, like South Kensington or Pimlico today. Streets that don’t want change will not have it forced on them.

Half of the homes in London are in buildings of just one or two floors; many other cities are similar. If the owners have the ambition, semi-detached houses could be replaced with glorious terraces or mansion blocks with literally five times the square footage, while often creating a prettier street and far more homes. That would allow many more to achieve their dream of homeownership without using any more countryside.

Just getting that permission will often double or treble the value of the original house where prices are high. Not surprisingly, most homeowners we’ve asked love the idea. It’s a huge vote winner, even before the substantial boost to economic growth and earnings from more construction and more homes near the best job opportunities.

We need to protect people on other streets. That means height limits like the Elizabethans or Georgians of, say, six storeys – or perhaps higher in inner London with its tradition of grand Victorian and Edwardian eight to ten storey buildings. We also need rules: protecting houses on the street behind, about corner houses, and others described in our report published last year.

Homeowners can either do the work when they are ready, team up together or with a small builder, or sell to a small builder when they want to move. There is no need for every owner to do the work at the same time: Bloomsbury was built in batches of several houses. It’s not the end of the world if things don’t match for a while. When the house is next sold, the buyer who wants to do the work will outbid anyone who doesn’t. The beautiful houses of Bath’s Royal Crescent were built by different builders to a single code.

The housing crisis is a political challenge, and it needs solutions with popular support. The best way forward to fairer, more beautiful places, is to be inspired by what has worked in the past.

43 comments for: John Myers: Let residents in each street vote to allow existing houses to be extended upwards or outwards

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.