The Housing White Paper that is currently in consultation proposes a firm shift in policy toward intensifying development density.  The rationale for this is not only to allow delivery of more homes on less land, particularly where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing need, but also to encourage sustainable development that makes best use of infrastructure and services.

In many ways this is no more than common sense, especially given the intense market demand for new homes to be close to jobs in urban areas.  Managing the balance between creating high density, quality and cost is not an easy task, however, as numerous previous governments have found.

One option offered by the White Paper is to replace or build over low-density uses, such as retail warehouses, lock-ups and car parks, always assuming that such uses can be supplied elsewhere.  Another is to look upwards, towards what the White Paper describes as opportunities ‘where buildings can be extended upwards by using the ‘airspace’ above’.

Quality neighbourhoods or urban cramming?

What might building upwards mean for design quality and adherence to acceptable environmental standards for those who will live in the new homes?  On one hand the intensification of development in urban areas could promote well-thought out, walkable neighbourhoods in the right place which, reinforced by sufficient population capacity, are capable of supporting local services and fostering a genuine sense of community.  At the other end of the spectrum, there is risk of a return to the bad old days of urban cramming of unsustainable monochrome housing in the wrong place and without access to services and green space essential to community health and welfare.

Clearly, no one wants the latter and, while new national policy must be sufficiently flexible to encourage local distinctiveness and character, it must also be adequately robust to be meaningful – and to survive over-zealous application of value engineering.

Design guidance is also needed, and should be very clear about the overarching parameters that must be achieved for proposed development to be acceptable.

Delivering high quality sustainable homes and environments which genuinely reflect local character will need developers, designers and engineers to employ imaginative and intelligent thinking, with particular attention paid to creation of quality places and spaces on varying levels and scales.

Having the right skills

Based on our combined specialist experience at Landmark of delivering high quality urban and public realm spaces, we are leading the trend to reach for the skies. Recent commissions include four roof terrace (public realm in the sky?) contracts, sited on an assortment of type and designs of building, ranging from commercial to mixed use, private residential to health care uses in Bristol, London and Plymouth.

Visual representation – getting the correct detailing is critical to successful and cost-effective delivery of public realm in the sky ©

What’s underneath the surface?

We have provided our clients with professional landscape design advice and services from RIBA stages 0 through to 7, supporting the design teams along the way with technical backup on fundamental practicalities that need to be considered.  These include how to gain access and egress, what can and can’t be achieved on the 6th floor and above, what are the acceptable weights, health and safety measures (such as parapet heights) depending on who is using the garden?  And how to achieve those all-important BREEAM credits – one of our projects has just received BREEAM 2014 Outstanding and LEED Gold building standard award.

Most importantly, creating quality environments, whatever the height of the space, is critical to the residents and users of the scheme.  There is also ample evidence to show that high quality design and detail, underpinned by thorough understanding of the receiving environment and technical know-how, creates a higher quality product, with a strong sense of place and improved marketability.

If you would like further information to help turn your visions in to reality, please call Andy Spargo on 0117 9230455, or email him at