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People should live ‘never more than 10 minutes’ from basic facilities

Words: Laura Edgar
Healthy communities / Shutterstock_117253477

When designing neighbourhoods, the aspiration should be for everyone to live within a five-minute walk of ‘significant’ green space or a park and ‘never be more than 10 minutes’ from basic facilities.

This is one of several recommendations set out in a report – Home Comforts – published by the Place Alliance, which is hosted by UCL, with support from Urban Design London, Good Homes Alliance and the Urban Design Group.

It comprises the results of a survey of 2,510 households across the UK to find out how the design of homes and neighbourhoods affected their experience of the lockdown implemented to stem the spread of Covid-19.

It finds that houses are more comfortable than flats, with the homes built since 2010 recording the lowest proportion of comfortable residents. Two-thirds of people felt either comfortable or very comfortable, but a sixth were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable. Extrapolated across the UK, the report states, this represents 10.7 million uncomfortable people.

Overall, social renters suffered the most and were the least comfortable by “some margin”.

Having access to private open space determined who was the most comfortable – households with no access to any sort of private open space were the least comfortable. Just 7 per cent reported that they struggled to work from home, with social renters “prominent amongst them”.

“Common problems included a physical lack of space, difficulties in separating home and work life, poor home technology (notably Wi-Fi), and poor physical conditions,” states the report.

Regarding neighbourhoods, the proximity to parks or green space indicated how satisfied people were with their neighbourhood during lockdown. Satisfaction declined the farther away people were living, particularly if they were more than 10 minutes away. Likewise, the survey found, the situation was the same with local facilities such as shops. Wider pavements and space for cycling were also appreciated.

A sense of community was felt the most in rural areas and in older housing stock, while there was less of a community feeling in apartment blocks and newer housing. The report states: “People living in rural areas, in houses (as opposed to apartments), in older housing and in owner-occupied dwellings experienced a greater deepening of community support. Residents in high-rises, post-2010 homes, and local authority-owned developments experienced the smallest boost in community feeling.”

Lead author Professor Matthew Carmona, of the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL, commented: “We need to learn from the stress test that lockdown has given our homes and neighbourhoods to build better living environments and to adapt those we are living in today.

“In recent years we have let design standards drop. As our survey shows, people tend to be less satisfied in new housing. This may in part be down to a lack of clear national space standards over past decades, leading to homes that are too small, but also because we are building neighbourhoods without ready access to basic amenities.

“We need to make sure that all homes have access to private open space, whether a garden, terrace or balcony, and that they are big enough to comfortably live in, with fresh air, daylight and good insulation from noise.”

Recommendations set out in Home Comforts include:

The design of homes:

  • All new homes and newly converted homes should have mandated access to private open space, even if just to a balcony.
  • All new and newly converted homes should be built to decent national minimum space standards and have access to fresh air, daylight and good insulation against the transmission of noise.
  • The nationally described space standards should be amended to reflect working from home needs.

The design of neighbourhoods:

  • The higher and the denser we build, the greater the need for high-quality parks and green spaces and local facilities within the neighbourhood.
  • The aspiration should be for everyone to live within a five-minute walk of a significant green space or park, and never more than 10 minutes.
  • Everyone should live within a five-minute walk of basic local facilities, including shops, and never more than 10 minutes.
  • Homes, facilities, and green spaces should be linked by connected, walkable, and green streets and cycling infrastructure.

A more community-focused city:

  • To encourage a stronger sense of community in newer and denser developments, shared public and private spaces for safe interaction and play should be built into schemes, as well as convenient access to local amenities and facilities.
  • Social housing should enjoy the same essential amenities as housing for sale or to privately rent, including access to the qualities recommended above across dwelling and neighbourhood scales.

Carmona added: “There has been much talk of a ’15-minute city’, where people can meet most of their needs within a short walk or cycle. Our study suggests that 15 minutes may be too far for many of us and that we ought to aim for a 10 or even five-minute city.”

Home Comforts can be found here on the Place Alliance website (pdf).

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