Chartered Town Planner Richard Pigott looks at the innovative work of Bristol based WeCanMake, who are creating back garden micro homes as a means to help address the city’s housing issues.
Backland development……it’s often a dirty word in the planning world and Bristol City Council, like many planning authorities, has an explicit planning policy against “backland development”, designed to prevent “garden grabbing” for speculative, low quality development. However, an innovative community land trust in Bristol named WeCanMake is trying to address the housing and affordability issues of the city by building micro homes in back gardens on the Knowle West estate in the south of the city. WeCanMake have so far built 2 micro homes and have identified up to 1,500 potential micro-sites across the entire estate where a one-or two-bedroom home could fit.
WeCanMake has produced a ‘Playbook’ which sets out their working prototype for unlocking micro-sites for affordable community-led homes, and shares how the approach could be replicated and scaled across the UK. In order to overcome planning concerns “WeCanMake worked collaboratively and creatively with the design and planning team at The Council to navigate a way through the regulatory complexities. The planning conditions co-designed through this process enable development of micro-sites on condition: A) The micro-site land and home are held in community-ownership in perpetuity; and B) The home is affordable in perpetuity.”
Knowle West was built in the 1930s as a council housing estate, constructed on garden city principles, with large gardens and “an abundance of fresh air and daylight.” This means that, by modern standards, it is a low density estate which readily lends itself to some ‘gentle densification’. But can similar initiatives be rolled out across the country? The answer would seem to be yes as similar low-density estates built in the pre and post-war eras can be found all over England.
WeCanMake stresses that there are other benefits to ‘community led urban infill development’ including greener homes (and hence cheaper to heat), greater community involvement and cohesion and local jobs and upskilling.
So could this idea take off in owner occupied areas as well? There seem to be more reasons than ever why micro homes are, broadly speaking, a ‘good idea’ but there would need to be a significant relaxation of planning rules for this to happen on a broader scale, as well as a willingness for private homeowners to accept the densification of their areas even if it could affect property values. Watch this (micro) space.
Richard Pigott, Director – Chartered Town Planner, Planning & Design Practice Ltd