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The contribution live/work can make to reducing carbon emissions needs urgent recognition, according to Royal Town Planning Institute secretary general Robert Upton. Upton was addressing the April 2008 conference held to launch Live Work Network’s new report, Tomorrow’s property today: sustainable live/work development in a low carbon economy.
‘We are looking at a new urban form,’ said Upton. ‘It’s our job of necessity to make it happen well. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us starkly that, if by 2015 we fail to make the necessary measures of adaptation, we will not by 2050 be able to exercise any control over global warming. Yet the year 2015 in planning terms is minutes away.’
Eco-towns were almost a distraction, he suggested. ‘Their contribution is limited. This is not just about new build or greenfield, what we do with our existing stock is extremely important.’
The biggest problem right now is unfamiliarity, he said. The live/work concept needs to be ‘understood and evidenced. We need this to be a communicated vision - what features it should and shouldn’t have, what makes live/work buildings work as social and economic entities, environmental assets making full use of a building 24-hours a day.’
He noted that 41% of UK businesses are now run from home. ‘The home, or something like it, is becoming the premises for business. The future is live/work.’
Upton’s speech followed enthusiastic endorsement from Richard McCarthy, director general of housing and planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government.
‘Live/work can make a very powerful contribution, economically and socially, to a neighbourhood,’ he said. Living and working in the same place was always one of the elements that combined to make a community sustainable, he noted.
‘This is about creating those very special locations to make them places where people can live and they can work. It’s about enabling people to run their business from home but in a professional way, not a back-door way to build yourself a big house.’
‘Most employment uses can now sit quite comfortably with residential,’ McCarthy added. But he warned: ‘Not all live/work is well built, no all of it is well-managed. You cannot build live/work and then just walk away.’
Treasury adviser Kate Barker, who has led two major reviews for government on housing supply and land use planning, reinforced McCarthy’s warning. ‘We need to learn a lot more about how schemes work over time. There is a need for some standards but there is still room to make sure we get really good practice,’ she said.
One option on mixed use sites might be allowing properties to flex between residential and live/work uses. ‘People’s lifestyle preferences and attitudes to travelling and commuting are changing quite radically,’ she added.
‘The way we work has changed. When I was undertaking the planning review for the Treasury there was some resistance to live/work at DCLG. But in fact there is very little disturbance to neighbours and a lot of economic benefits.’
At national and regional levels, she said, live/work was now being encouraged. But it was local authorities who would have to make it happen. ‘The pressures on the infrastructure are different.’
Inconsistencies between taxation on home-based businesses and live/workers also needed addressing. ‘The government will have to think how you can provide business support. The business rates issue is important. Changes to the capital gains tax and VAT regimes would also be helpful,’ she said. ‘A more accommodating approach to live/work would tick all those boxes.’
DEVELOPING WITH SKILL
One fringe session at the conference heard first-hand the experience of developers whose schemes featured in Live Work Network’s report. ‘You can find 30 different types of coffee now but there’s very little choice of property type for the multitude of ways people live their lives now,’ said Verve director Ashley Nicholson.
‘At our Paintworks scheme in Bristol, we had 100% flexibility to go residential or commercial, partly because the site was so derelict that the planners were happy to have anything on it,’ he said.
‘We convinced them that by designing them primarily as workspaces, you can have an environment you’ll want to live in and want to work in.’
‘Live/work has to look different – it’s about space, size and community,’ added live/work developer Jeff Lowe. A sculptor by trade, Lowe also lives in the live/work community he founded at Havelock Walk in south London.
‘I moved into a building that had been derelict for years. People wouldn’t even walk down that street and at first the planners resisted live/work,’ he said. ‘But a vibrant live/work community has built up over 12 years and the planners now come to me if they have a building they don’t want knocked down.’
‘The question for me is how do you use live/work as the engine for regeneration through business start-ups and helping people into work?’ said David Cowans, chief executive of Places for People, one of the UK’s largest not-for-profit property management and development companies.
‘I always brief architects: give me design I would travel to see,’ he said. ‘Make a real sense of “place” and take a long-term view of its economic sustainability. Why do students leave an area after graduating? Excitement – try to recreate that. Affordability is another issue and people want something to aspire to so offer an attractive package.’
Experienced live/work developer Alex Shaw of Spaceworks commented: ‘People move to a place because they like the way it looks. The building has to be prettier and the stock has to be designed to be genuinely suitable for business use.’
At a separate session, Paul Fong, managing director of planning experts Hunter Page, called for more explicit support for live/work at government level, describing as ‘vague’ the draft Planning Policy Statement 4. ‘Let’s hope we get something more explicit so we can show people on the ground what you are trying to achieve,’ Fong said.
MODEL SCHEMES WANTED
Architect MJ Long, chair of CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, also issued a plea to developers. ‘We don’t see live/work as having a single model. We want to see different types of scheme with flexibility to accommodate changes in work, numbers of employees, children and so on,’ she said. ‘Bring your schemes to our design review panel so they can get fed back to planning departments.’
LIVE/WORK IN THE USA
Conference highlights included a presentation by a Chris Velasco, president of Place, a hugely successful non-profit agency developing live/work for artist communities in the USA.
‘We sit in an uncomfortable intersection between being a creator of affordable housing, inspiring green spaces, and supporting the arts,’ he said. ‘We don’t drop models cookie-cutter style into other communities. The process is inefficient, contentious, very slow and yet it’s the best.
‘If development is framed to generate economic returns for the people who did the development, it’s probably not good for the people who live there. If you don’t have vision-driven development, you end up with a mess.’
The American model, he said, had for too long been designed around extensive commuting between home and work. ‘In the USA, people often commute over 100 miles.’ Nearly 50% of US carbon emissions came from buildings and 17% from driving between them, he added.
Commenting on live/work schemes the conference had discussed earlier, he said: ‘I was interested to see these projects designed around neighbour interaction. In the US places are designed to avoid your neighbours!’
A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
BT futurologist Robin Mannings said rapid advances in technology were making live/work increasingly viable, without the drawbacks. ‘We are beginning a new age of networking for people who are geographically isolated.’
Road pricing, the green agenda and the move to working after retirement age all supported the move to live/work. ‘If we’re talking energy, we’ll move from the “always on” culture to mostly off,’ he said. ‘And will retirement ever happen? My feeling is the “well” old will carry on working.’
VOICE OF EXPERIENCE
Advocates of the live/work lifestyle also came under the spotlight. Dan Thompson, an accountant who lives with his artist wife Jeni Johnson, said that with one toddler and a second on the way, being able to balance work flexibly with childcare was a boon for both of them.
‘It’s more affordable – we’re paying for just the one place to live and work. It’s important for me that we can close the door between my wife’s paints and the children and as we’re renting, no normal landlord would want paint splashed all over the walls.’
Ian Hazlewood, an IT consultant, said his move to live/work had been driven by repeated break-ins that led to the insurance company withdrawing cover. ‘We ended up sleeping in the warehouse,’ he noted.
Since moving to live/work his company has taken on another five employees. ‘We had to stay where our clients are because we provide technical support and the cost of separate premises for business and home was out of the question. We’ve now been there for 10 years, have rented a second commercial unit there and we’re looking at a third.’
Interior designer Helena Angelides had set out to look for live/work, after living in Los Angeles, where the concept is widespread. ‘It offers the carrot of community and flexible space – the ability to separate living and working areas in just one property,’ she said.
‘It also lets you plan for the future – think about retirees who want to leave their job but not sit about, about less able people.’ Getting the interior layout and ‘feel’ right was important. ‘Light, sound, texture and colour are all important. It has to be a really attractive space – we work so much better when all our senses are engaged.’
HUBS FOR THE LIVE/WORK SECTOR
A later fringe session focused on business support through hub facilities targeting home based businesses. John Cowles, director of Workhubs, said the inspiration in Cornwall had come largely from the popularity of a fledgling service offered in Penzance before the arrival of high-speed broadband.
‘Hundreds of businesses came down from the hills,’ he said. A bespoke shared facility was part funded by the regional development agencies, with contributions from microbusinesses and freelancers.
Demand continued unabated even after Cornwall went digital. ‘The main value has been support for an isolated and fragmented business community, businesses below the Business Link radar,’ said Cowles. ‘But we also have unemployed people using the hub to learn skills and we work with colleges and learning centres to provide training for local people who don’t want to go back to college in the evening.’
Fay Easton, director of Enterprise HQ, a support hub in Shrewsbury, said funding had been a constant struggle but the range of businesses that approached the hub had been a revelation. ‘I thought we’d be dominated by artisans and people in the catering sector but 62% are in professional or technical businesses and are looking to expand.’
Localisation, she said, was coming back and live/work developments couldn’t ‘come fast enough. ‘The biggest challenge is the existing housing stock. If you have a client coming in and the dog’s yapping you’re not going to get a big fat fee. We deliberately made enterprise hi-tech to change that perception of home-based businesses as amateurs.’
After the early financial struggles, Enterprise HQ had now secured some serious sponsorship. ‘We are the shop window for business support services,’ Easton said. ‘About 40% of our income comes from mailbox rentals and virtual services and 60% from private sector contracts.’
Speaking at a fringe session on the carbon-saving benefits of live/work, Live Work Network associate Andy Lake said: ‘If home-working was banned now there would be an extra 6 million car journeys and 35 million square metres of office space would be needed.’
Chris Webber, BT Workstyle business director for managed environments added: ‘The trend over the past 150 years has been to drive people away from where they work. This is the beginning of a return to the past.’
DESIGNING SUSTAINABLE LIVE/WORK
Rounding off the conference with a presentation on designing live/work, architect Piers Taylor of the Mitchell Taylor Workshop, explained how his schemes were making imaginative and sensitive use of derelict and abandoned buildings that might otherwise be demolished. ‘The rigid office and the rigid house have had their day but the eco-town has not landed,’ he said. ‘I recommend that instead we reuse brownfield sites in sustainable ways.’