With almost half a century of combined experience supporting local authority development, Public Sector PLC and Pozzoni Architecture have helped our council partners keep their local plans on track through some challenging times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has nevertheless been revelatory.
In making unprecedented sacrifices and lifestyle changes over recent months, we have all tested the capacity and functionality of our built environment like never before. We now have a shared responsibility to everyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that lessons are learned and that our communities and local economies are better prepared to manage future challenges.
Homes of the future
Everyone has had to adapt in recent months and so too have our homes. Almost overnight, they’ve flexed to become our offices, our children’s classrooms, even gymnasia. To get more out of our homes, we need to put more in; ensuring we’re designing and building the right kinds of housing that meets the diverse needs of intergenerational communities for years to come.
COVID-19 has once more highlighted the importance of strong housing design that makes the most of its footprint, as well as the benefits of low operating costs. Had lockdown been enforced during the winter months, we might have seen a large number of households pushed into fuel poverty by the increase in domestic energy demands.
It’s satisfying to see many local authorities renewing their commitments to sustainability in relation to new development. As we move out of lockdown, we’re glad to be helping more and more council partners gain a better understanding of modern, off-site construction methods, while seeing an ever-increasing interest in our zero carbon homes proposition.
Councils also have an opportunity to embrace Active Design principles within local planning policy, to encourage more pedestrian journeys around the built environment. This will help reduce the reliance on motor vehicles for short journeys and offer an alternative to leisure centre exercise – in an uncertain time for the leisure sector, post COVID-19.
Remote working has also challenged us to reassess the format of the workplace. We are now seeing growing demand for flexible office spaces geared towards group collaboration, rather than solely desk-based activity – allowing for a combined approach alongside independent working. Getting industry back on track will inevitably require fresh investment into future-proofing workplaces.
A new approach
It seems likely that housing demand within our towns and suburbs will continue to grow, as people seek extra space and security following their experiences of lockdown. To ensure the continued supply of suitable homes at the right density may require changes to local planning guidance.
In the past, vital residential development has been obstructed by strict adherence to PTAL ratings (Public Transport Accessibility Levels), which has reduced the potential capacity of housing schemes within our towns and suburbs. Although public transport has an important role to play in reducing reliance on motor vehicles in the long term, COVID-19 has changed many people’s attitudes towards public commuting in the medium term.
If we aren’t going to be using public transport as intensively for the foreseeable future, perhaps we should be prioritising the volume delivery of high-quality homes where they are required instead? Our towns don’t necessarily need efficient access to cities like London right now - they need reliable footfall and people spending money locally, to help stimulate local economies.
Alongside modern homes built at the right density, our towns will need thriving local high streets with a healthy mix of retail, employment and leisure opportunities nearby – to support new, intergenerational communities. Local councils need better incentives for SMEs and independent businesses to keep the brightest entrepreneurs within our towns.
Emerging from the shadow of COVID-19 gives us a unique opportunity to re-examine local planning processes and find novel ways of streamlining vital decision-making, so that we can efficiently adapt towns and neighbourhoods to reflect our changing lifestyles.
It’s also a chance to refocus on sustainable development that delivers social value, a key tenet of our ongoing work with local authorities.
Adam Cunnington is CEO of Public Sector Plc (PSP), and Julian Lockwood is a director of Pozzoni (Living)