Work on Phase 3 of Kidbrook’s redevelopment is now well underway. Located directly beside the station, a 25-storey tower is included in plans alongside lower rise blocks comprising 1,238 homes.
The arguments about living in flats not being suitable for families, so often heard in the UK, don’t really hold water. Families in most developed and advanced European and Asian nations live quite happily in flats. It works well if the buildings and surrounding areas are well designed. The idea of flats is fine; implementation is key. And of course affordability, which is woeful. Endless government props only push up prices, excluding far more than they help plus push up taxpayer costs as rents also rise along with housing benefit costs (£25 billion a year and counting now), whilst very little is done about increasing supply. The governments so -called ambitious plan is 200k homes a year by 2020. The UK built 300-400k a year for much of the 20th century.
Back to flats and the need for more, and it also means sufficient play areas and community facilities. Your typical inner city Spanish street, for example, has families in flats above commercial spaces – shops, bars, offices, all sorts. But there’s numerous parks nearby, which crucially are well maintained and appealing, as well as playgrounds on most streets. Schools open late and are integrated into the community. No buildings behind 10 foot fences well away from the heart of town. Often they are on busy main streets offering sports and other activities running long into the evening, with facilities used by both school children and others. Adult football teams one night, teenage basketball the next etc.
But it’s nice and sunny, so a wide range of street activity can happen, thus living in flats is fine? That’s a retort sometimes heard, to explain why it wouldn’t in the UK. But its much the same with apartment living in much of Northern Europe. Frequent visits to northern European countries show how well it can work, and often does. The UK lags far behind in a whole range of services and planning.
But security and safety within blocks is also key. It takes just one disruptive occupier in a block of flats to affect many around them. So cracking down on that is essential. Cause problems and you’re out. That’s how harmony and good living standards are maintained in high density living. That’s how it is in most nations with high density living. The UK has often been way too lax with anti-social behaviour with sometimes disastrous effects for those living in the vicinity. Couple that with long term neglect of many high density areas and they’re now taboo.
Tall blocks also work well, if the design and tenancy mix is right. in a well planned system, the tallest blocks could be let, for say 5 years, to occupiers in their 20s and 30s without children. The smaller blocks then reserved mainly for those with children on longer term leases or owner-occupiers. That way you have a stable community. No short term 6 month or one year tenancies with all the related insecurity and fractured communities as mass buy-to-let takes hold, with too many landlords also allowing houses and flats to rot.
Many in the UK have a knee jerk aversion to high density living, which given the numerous failures of many developments is understandable. Yet there’s examples of success. Towers and flats are fine. It’s how they are designed and function that needs changing. And with a rising population it has to be embraced and designed well. Endless sprawl is no answer.
TfL and Network Rail site
Back to Kidbrooke itself now, and here’s the site the other side of the line where TfL and Network Rail are looking to build a 20-storey tower:
Alongside these plans, infrastructure upgrades are needed. And we go back to the old story of Southeastern and lack of investment, mainly emanating from government cock ups and short termism.
Kidbrooke Station saw 17% growth last year and 19% the year before. Rail minister Claire Parry, who extended Southeastern’s contract for another four years in 2014 after the DfT messed up franchising, said back in January that the Department for Transport would decide on Southeastern’s June 2015 request for additional trains by March this year. Well, there’s not much of March left and still no word.
That earlier mess up was described as:
“A ‘complete lack of common sense’ in the Department for Transport’s handling of the West Coast Main Line franchise deal will cost taxpayers ‘£50m at the very least’, MPs have said.”
The glacial approach to investment for improving services in the region despite rapidly rising passenger numbers and population growth are a clear indictment of why removing control of Southeastern services from Westminster, Whitehall and the Department for Transport control is badly needed.
Since TfL took over lines in East London last year they have ordered 31 new trains for the lines as part of a wider 45 train order to also bolster other lines. Southeastern obviously won’t. No company would when you can be turfed out in two years. So it falls to the DfT to plan and provide, which they’ve failed to do. Given the Department will see cuts of a third of its entire budget in the next five years under Osborne’s spending plans, don’t expect that to happen to any great degree. What the area needs is power taken from their hands and given to TfL, with London given more control over it’s own finances to fund its fast rising needs.