The Grumpy Old Man

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Greenbelt Housing, The No-No of the Century

A look at other options for social and affordable housing rather than destroying greenbelt land

I see from the Daily Telegraph that the UK Communities Secretary, (Sajid Javid) is coming under pressure to abandon the protection of the greenbelt, despite having pledged not to do so in the Conservative Party 2015 election manifesto.

I would remind the Secretary, that as long ago as 1804, yielding to such pressures was even then a hot potato. William Blake, one of our great poets, wrote "and did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green and was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen................ and was Jerusalem builded here among these dark satanic mills?........... I will not cease from mental fight............. till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land."

This extract from the poem became the hymn 'Jerusalem' clearly shows that unscrupulous developers and industrialists were even then despoiling England's green and pleasant land Are we then to be remembered as the generation who threw all away by building homes willy-nilly on green belt land just for the sake of not clearing up the mess we have already created in disused and abandoned industrial (brownfield) sites while lining our own pockets?

If we are still not ready to tackle the contentious topic of world population (as opposed to the different local problem of immigration) then it is high time we learned to reuse land rather than ruining what little remains unspoiled. This multifaceted problem is further exacerbated by the explosion in second / holiday homes. For Grumpy's views on this, see eco6 by clicking here

On the proposal for using greenbelt land for housing, Grumpy has seen, in Ireland, what can happen when there is unfettered and unrestricted, (sometimes perhaps brown envelope driven) random house building. The tourist industry claims the countryside is beautiful. Yes, it was 20 years ago, but now white bungalows are freely scattered around the countryside like so much discarded confetti to the extent that they dominate rather than melt into the countryside. For more on this topic see eco5 by clicking here

On Grumpy's visits to the UK, he has been very conscious when coming into land that he flies over acres and acres of flat car parks. The car dominates our way of life and society, why not build car parks upwards? The City of London, has already done so and in its quest for space, has built upwards. Why does the rest of the UK unable to follow this lead, build our car parks upwards thus freeing up land for housing.

In a sample survey of car parking habits in ten random UK locations carried out, paying particular attention to the grocery supermarket, and looking only at major supermarkets (Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose) Grumpy found that there were some 5187 large stores.

Looking at this small a sample of 10, I was surprised by a number of common factors. All but one of the stores had car parks occupying two thirds of the site. The exception to this related to a store built in the late 1960s, when car ownership was not so prevalent. All of the other stores had an almost identical store footprint and parking for 500 cars, and all spread out on the level!

I also looked at the Gateshead Metrocentre, a much larger and somewhat different operation, finding parking for a total of 10,000 cars with over half of the these spaces multi-storey.

So, would a similar approach make a difference resulting in space becoming available for social housing? Grumpy accepts that his initial investigation only scratches the surface. However, in a relatively short time, sufficient data was found on the Internet to justify further serious, in-depth investigation.

Satellite photographs readily available via Google Maps show that without exception, all the parking was on a parallel square grid arrangement (nose to nose, at right angles to the access road). Mathematicians at the University of Salford analysed the problem and calculated that with herringbone or echelon parking (angled at 45 to the access road) the space taken would allow approximately 23% more cars to be parked in the same space. A simple calculation suggested that a space of 63 m x 70 m, echelon arrangement, would park around 100 cars. Make that a five layer multi-storey and you've got 500 cars parked, sufficient for what appears to be required for the average grocery supermarket.

Just supposing that the parking spaces in Grumpy's 10 supermarket sample were in 10, five floor multi-storey car parks. In theory, this would generate some 15 ha of "spare" space. UK government report PPS3 advises a housing density of 30 units per hectare. With Grumpy's 10 supermarket sample, this could produce space for a total of 450 houses. Multiply this up and you have space for over 230,000 houses.

Again, looking at Google maps, it is clear that there are as many other retail outlets, (not grocery) that follow the same shop space/car park ratio. It does not feel unreasonable to apply the same logic to these establishments. Applying this factor, there is clearly a potential for some 460,000 houses. (Just under half of the million claimed to be needed by 2020). The bonus being over 15,000 ha of green space has been saved. Grumpy believes that is a prize really worth chasing.

Again, looking at Google maps, other flat car parks were noticed around airports (nine major were looked at and all had vast areas for long-term parking and hire car storage). Surely they could go multi-storey, releasing space for commercial use thus releasing other space for housing.

Not being a football fan, Grumpy is only aware of the location of one football ground. Derby County, have a new stadium (ironically having sold the old one to provide housing!). This new stadium being surrounded by flat car parking! Gordon Bennett what's wrong with multi-storey car parking under the stands?

Additionally the motor manufacturers take up vast areas with parking of finished product awaiting delivery. Again what's wrong with better space managed storage, i.e. multilevel parking?

Particularly galling was at Royal Portbury Dock, Avonmouth, there is a similar vast area full of cars parked side-by-side, ready to be loaded onto an already waiting ship. Calling on my engineering experience in manufacturing, I know the motor industry operates to a "just-in-time" operation. In such a system, Manufacturing Resource Planning (the usually computerised system by which the whole manufacturing process is managed) assumes that parts for the assembly line are delivered to the plant "just-in-time". In this way, space is not taken up by goods being stored awaiting manufacturing. For heaven's sake, if this can be done with piece parts coming into the factory, why in the world can't it be done for finished product about to leave? After all you have got fewer bits to juggle!

If one applies the same logic across the country, it must be feasible to find a similar number of locations where adequate numbers of houses could be built without touching the greenbelt. Grumpy accepts that many urban brownfield sites have been grossly contaminated by previous users and extensive remedial work is required before they can be used. But these sites must be remediated such that they can be reused. This remediation must be done on the basis of "let the polluter pay". Grumpy accepts this in many cases can present a complex problem related to either the nature of the pollution or ownership of the site. But more of that in a separate grump! To read more on this topic go to eco11-1 by clicking here

So how is this grandiose scheme to be financed. Grumpy believes it is quite possible to finance it at minimum cost. Once a site has been identified, the price to be paid for the finished houses (the same social housing for ease of this example) will be known. The builder tenders to construct the houses access roads and multi-storey car park. The multi-storey car park is constructed first and the supermarket can then vacate the rest of the car park. Social housing is constructed, and the builder is paid the agreed price. The overall contract price includes the value of the housing, services and car park. One can see that once the builder has been paid, the supermarket still has its parking services and social housing is available. The total monies when paid would come from a global pot "social housing". It is accepted interim government funding may be required to bridge the gap between start of build and completion payment. The addition of site remediation costs will be discussed in eco11-1 which you can see by clicking here

So are we going to be known as the generation who despoiled England's green and pleasant land, covering it with our own equivalent of Black Satanic Mills (the ubiquitous car park) and huge, bland housing estates as far as the eye can see. That hardly sounds like Jerusalem to me.