Sunday, 12 June 2016

How to recognise a Green housing scheme

We see lots of planning applications, and less formal proposals, to build homes in Enfield. Many of them (eg the Cat Hill and Fairview school schemes) raise environmental issues.

Given that we don't have enough homes in Enfield and that the population will keep rising we need to build a lot more homes. So how should we judge new schemes?

We need more homes, especially for those who can't afford decent homes. Developments are supposed to provide 40% 'affordable' homes but this is a distraction because developers generally find ways to avoid providing so many and more because most so-called affordable homes are not affordable by people on average pay.

In my view this problem is insoluble if numbers continue to rise. It is certainly not soluble without some serious creativity about the interplay between population, housing, finance and benefits. And that probably needs a new national policy - or several!

So, while we work on the broader issue, we can ask for 50% affordable homes. It won't solve the problem but at least those 50% won't be luxury flats for offshore investors!

High environmental standards, especially low energy use. Our policy is that all new buildings should meet passivhaus standards for energy. (Of course, the surest way to do that is to follow the passivhaus method but we don't insist on that.) We've pressed this on various council officials and departments over the last few years but all we ever get back is "too expensive". Well, that hasn't stopped other councils, such as Camden and Wolverhampton, from building to those standards so it's obviously possible.

Larger schemes should provide more than housing. They should provide local shops and community facilities. How many and which shops and facilities will obviously depend on what's already available but, as we saw in the case of the Ritz Parade, they might include a GP surgery, meeting rooms, a school, a theatre or a cinema. Green space would be good too.

And I'd add one thing that is often forgotten - space for politics and community action. Many 'public' shopping centres are actually private. On various occasions I have been told by security staff to stop distributing election leaflets in Edmonton Green shopping centre, filming for the BBC in Palace Gardens and collecting for the RNLI in Palace Exchange.

There ought to be outdoor space that can be used for politics and community action, provided that it doesn't cause a nuisance. And there should be indoor rooms for hire.
As a Green I give priority to active travel - walking and cycling - since it is healthier and more sociable. So, specifically, I want to see:
  1. Green space within walking distance.
  2. Good walking and cycling routes to shops, entertainment, etc.
  3. Accessible routes for people with nobility problems.
But that's clearly not enough. Many people have to travel much further than they can walk or cycle for work, shipping or entertainment. So a scheme should provide good public transport connections. Specifically there should be bus stops within walking distance and a tube or train station accessible by one bus ride (or walking, of course).

Now its only in the largest schemes that the developer can address all of this. He won't be able to move a tube station or even a bus route. So the responsibility must shared between the developer and the Council. We need both parties to recognise their responsibilities.

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