“For us, housing need massively outweighs the need for car parks.” That was the message from affordable housing campaigner Anya Martin as The London Society hosted a discussion about the “trials and tribulations” of developing Transport for London’s suburban car parks.
Plans for building housing on Underground station car parks have led to hard-fought battles between TfL and residents opposing the schemes, often prominently supported by councillors and local MPs of all parties.
The most recent controversy saw transport secretary Grant Shapps stepping in to block a 350-home TfL scheme at Cockfosters station because it would cut parking from 370 spaces to 47, despite the council having approved the plans.
Sadiq Khan’s London Plan, the blueprint for development in the city, encourages building at transport hubs, and Tube station car parks offer a “rare opportunity” to tackle the capital’s housing crisis, said Martin, from the campaign group PricedOut.
London is increasingly becoming “two cities,” she said, divided between generally well-housed owner-occupiers and a growing army of younger people who are unable to buy and are instead sharing rented homes or living at home in the context of soaring house prices and a continuing failure to meet new homes targets.
“To get the new homes you need to build up or build out, and we should do both,” she said. But with the Green Belt constraining outward growth, “we are left with building up on the sites that are available, like car parks”.
Another participant in the event, Helen Jenkins from transport planning consultancy Lime, said that despite continuing skirmishes in outer London, travel trends suggest that the days of the car-dominated suburb are coming to an end.
Younger people in particular are driving less and spending less time travelling, with increasing recognition of the negative impacts of car use, from environmental and pollution concerns to inefficient use of space and inequality, with cars “overwhelmingly used by higher income groups,” she said.
Jenkins’ analysis of TfL’s car park schemes, including Cockfosters, showed most users had alternative public transport options available, she said. “It’s an issue of convenience rather than necessity. It’s time for the suburbs to change.”
Arguing that “hub” or “15-minute city” development is the way forward, she conceded that significant incentives would be needed to get people out of their cars, including better walking and cycling routes, more bike parking and cheaper fares.
However, Rob White from the Hands Off Finchley Central group said that although parking and the need to use a car in the suburbs is a concern, the issue was more about “the scale of what is being proposed”.
TfL’s 560-home scheme for Finchley Central car park, which includes a 20-storey tower block, is now on hold after developer Taylor Wimpey pulled out last year. White said it was a too tall and too dense – a “pound shop Canary Wharf”.
“We are not NIMBYs,” he argued. “London needs more housing, but it’s about good use of space. What is needed is decent, appropriate housing with suitable amenities, space to create a place where people want to put down roots and build communities.”
Where that housing goes, with increasing competition over scarce land, will continue to challenge policy-makers. Whether the Green Belt should contribute to meeting the capital’s increasing housing need will be discussed at a forthcoming London Society meeting.
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