Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Peabody Trust (TAB 53)

  The Peabody Trust currently owns and manages 19,500 homes across London. Of these, 200 are one/two bedroom blocks in 9-13 storey buildings. They are all located in Islington, and were constructed in the 50s/60s and so are strongly representative of many of London's high rise homes.

  The Trust's experience has identified three issues pertinent to the tall buildings debate:

    —  That high homes are not inherently unpopular.

    —  That tall buildings have the potential to be sustainable.

    —  That high homes can exploit location in a fair and equitable manner, affording the opportunity to intensify city living.


  We are just completing a research study of the views of our residents in these blocks which consisted of face to face interviews. This detailed study collected broad qualitative information, defining and measuring satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the issues that are of particular concern to residents in high homes.

  As the Trust has a relatively small population of people living in high homes. we were interested in finding comparable populations living high. So the initial 50 Peabody interviews were supplemented by 15 with tenants and leaseholders in similar local authority towers, and in a refurbished tower providing flats for keyworkers. The Trust is planning to build several medium to high rise residential buildings, and we have also taken over several local authority estates with tall towers. So we feel it is essential that we are confident in our understanding about what works and what does not, when we construct new, and refurbish existing, high buildings.

  It is hoped to extend the study to a larger population, asking a more limited series of questions focusing on the issues that have been highlighted as significant.


  Our study's findings reinforce much of the familiar anecdotal evidence, that living high has advantages and disadvantages. It bears out our experience that high rise social housing is not inherently unpopular.

    —  Many of our residents are very happy with their flats themselves. Their concerns are with what happens between their front door and the street.

    —  We found no indication that residents in higher flats were more unhappy but a small sample in the middle floors suffer the disbenefits without the compensation advantages of views or distance from traffic noise. But overall the population is satisfied both with their flat, and its location in the block.

    —  Residents tend to feel more secure on higher floors, and satisfaction with security increases dramatically at 10+ levels (100 per cent) over lower floors (63 per cent to 55 per cent). There was greater dissatisfaction with security in balcony access blocks rather than point blocks.

    —  With space at a premium the division of space is important. Peabody residents ranked the size of the living room as the best aspect of the flat, and the worst, the amount of storage. Balconies represent a storage opportunity rather than additional amenity space.

    —  A majority were satisfied with the lifts (especially since several have recently been replaced) but the few who are unhappy (mostly elderly residents) are particularly anxious about potential separation and isolation.

    —  Environment and comfort—the separation from noise and the bustle of the city was appreciated and the natural lighting and view, outlook ranked highly.

    —  Location—the study reported high levels of satisfaction with location of the blocks both closeness for shopping and local transport

    —  Several complaints were recognisable to all forms of housing management. Refuse disposal and cleanliness caused some concerns but a large proportion were satisfied with the rubbish storage in their flats, and there was no particular link to living high.

    —  Social cohesion is particularly high in the Peabody blocks due to the long established and relatively stable communities who live in them. Value is placed on the distinct community and identity of high buildings. Isolated incidents with neighbours do occur, but satisfaction is greatest amongst both the oldest, and newest tenants.

  The study emphasised the interconnection of management and the building itself in providing satisfactory homes.


  The Trust is leading in the application of sustainability to housing, as a result of cutting edge projects such as BedZED, our zero energy, zero carbon emission housing scheme in Sutton. We are actively seeking to tranfer these ideas and approaches to high rise buildings. To demonstrate that towers can be environmentally efficient, we have high, sustainable, building projects for Kensington & Chelsea, Hackney and Southwark on the drawing boards.

  Sustainable residential towers require high accessibility to public transport, an ability to conserve and generate energy and flexibility to combine living with working to reduce commuting congestion.

  Sustainable design might mean high-rise buildings where facades are differentiated dependent on orientation. Cladding and windows should accommodate views, and also facilitate the potential use of Photovoltaic cladding to generate energy. With careful design a permeable tall building can minimise downdraughts, and also use the wind as a cost effective way of generating green electricity.

  Sensitive sustainable design can overcome overall negative perceptions and environmental impacts such as overshading associated with conventional residential tower blocks.


  Earlier mistakes have been well documented, particularly failures of technology (panel systems rapidly and carelessly constructed), failures to allocate high homes to appropriate occupants, failure of location, and urban context. But many attitudes and approaches to living high have changed, particularly in high value inner city locations. New high rise projects are likely to be mixed tenure, but with many flats bought by investors, there will be market rent tenants as well as owner-occupiers and social renters. Success will be dependent on the delivery of high quality and cost effective management services to such communities and ensuring that the physical fabric of the building is maintained well enough to retain its popularity as a place to live.

  Deeper understanding is needed to identify where the disillusionment with high rise living really lies. For the next generation of towers to be successful, five key factors need to be addressed; prejudice, the many issues around management and maintenance, sustainability, the potential of towers to contribute to urban regeneration, and cost.


  Towers provide the opportunity of meeting housing demand in high demand areas. It is likely that the Trust will have little option but to build high to maximise density given the limited availability and high cost of new sites for affordable homes in Greater London. High rise also creates an opportunity to provide the critical mass necessary for popular facilities such as a concierge, or other community amenities. Many Peabody homes remain popular because they enable people to live in otherwise unattainable areas and tall buildings are one way we can continue to offer the opportunity to live in central and popular locations.

  The sensitivity of levels within the building and what is considered high is worthy of further investigation. However it is critical to separate the issue of height from high density. Improving quality of life at high density requires reduced impact of adjacency, acoustic separation, overlooking, and privacy. Tall buildings can address all these constraints. Very high (30 + stories) landmark buildings will be built periodically, particularly for the luxury end of the office and residential market. But the biggest challenge will be to provide high quality, affordable, medium to high rise homes at 8 to 20 floors.

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Prepared 22 January 2002