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14/08/2019

Building toward social inclusion

Young people living together

A policy focus on social inclusion will change the way that homes, workplaces and public buildings are designed, says Andrew Silverman

The transition into a new political era began with a plethora of new commitments from Boris Johnson. As the 31st October deadline for Brexit looms ever large, whether these are serious policies or alternatively the warning shots for a snap general election will be the subject of fierce political debate.

Regardless of this, communities across the UK will continue to be focused on the fundamental issues of where and how they live in an age of increasing economic uncertainty.

These considerations are commonplace and contrary to the divisions that Brexit has created amongst friends, families and colleagues. They provide the basis for an approach from government, at a local or national level, that is focused on social inclusion. 

This was an issue referenced by Boris Johnson in his inaugural speech where he committed the government to “uniting our country, answering at last the plea of the forgotten people and the left behind towns by physically and literally renewing the ties that bind us together”.

For the property sector this is of great significance, because the need to deliver socially inclusive projects will increasingly guide the work of architects, planners and developers.

In practice, this will change the approach to the design for homes, businesses and public buildings, whether this results from revised MHCLG planning guidance or the desire of local authorities to create a more inclusive built environment; through a greater emphasis on design standards or the way that communities are involved in planning decisions.

"New development projects will need to deliver spaces for people to live, work, learn and socialise together; delivering social inclusion that makes sense for the nation’s GDP, health and social care budgets"

Societal change is a driving factor in the move towards greater social inclusion. While economic advancement and the internet economy has brought greater material contentment, this is counterbalanced by the factors of loneliness and mental wellbeing. People tend not to do things collectively any longer, whether this involves eating, shopping or watching television, and society is all the poorer for it. 

Increasing numbers of people live alone, too, because of our ageing society or simply out of choice. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people living on their own went up by 16 per cent to 7.7 million between 1997 and 2017, while the UK population increased by only 13 per cent. By 2039, the number of one-person households is also projected to rise to 10.7 million. 

That is why new development projects will need to deliver spaces for people to live, work, learn and socialise together; delivering social inclusion that makes sense for the nation’s GDP, health and social care budgets. These benefits will result from the development of communal housing projects offering the choice, service and value that the current residential market does not offer. 

This has recently been highlighted by a decision of Wandsworth Council to approve The Collective’s third co-living scheme that will bring all these factors together for a new community of nearly three hundred people. It’s a concept that is also being replicated across Europe and in New York, too.

Having been a civil servant in the Cabinet Office, I can safely assume that such inclusive approaches to development are being closely observed at what is the centre of domestic social policy making for government. 

Advisers there and in the Treasury, whose focus lies on our long-term public finances, could begin to calculate a “collective dividend” from developments that deliver social and economic inclusion by design. The dividend would arise from potential savings to the NHS, a boost to enterprise resulting from creative people living together and an emphasis on private sector investment. 

For the property sector this offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape planning policy around an agenda that boosts employment, regenerates our built environment and drives shareholder value, too. That’s how a post-Brexit Britain can build toward social inclusion on a scale that has not been witnessed since the mass public housing projects of the 1950s and 60s.

Andrew Silverman is a business director at Cascade Communications. He is a former 10 Downing Street and Cabinet Office Civil Servant

Photo | iStock

 

 

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