You might have a Rolex or a superyacht, but the most expensive commodity in London today is space. A square foot in the capital costs around £1,200 on average, and when land is that expensive, green space becomes a luxury.
As a result, local authorities are increasingly likely to grant planning permission to developments that include a certain amount of green space, often in the form of landscaped communal parks and winter gardens. But what hope is there for the green-fingered buyer who wants to live in a new-build development and garden themselves rather than just observe someone else’s handiwork?
Well, not much, right now – but there are an increasing number of innovative developers looking into the benefits of residents’ allotments. Last month, the Battersea Power Station Development Company unveiled plans to build 10 private allotment plots and one larger communal vegetable patch on the roof of the iconic landmark. It’s the brainchild of British-born urban landscaper James Corner, who transformed the High Line in New York from an old railway route into an eco-oasis and made former marshland in east London Olympics-ready. The £8bn development will also include a vast roof garden able to host screenings, picnics and an exercise deck.
Ambition and scale seem to be the common factor in developments that include residents’ allotments. The £1.6bn revamp of Elephant & Castle in Zone One, for example, will not only include the largest public green space to be built in central London for 70 years, but each of its landmark developments will come with plots for keen gardeners. Like nearby Battersea, two of them will be up on the roofs, but two more will reside in courtyards. With land coming at such a premium, what’s in it for the developer? Well, says Lend Lease development director Ed Mayes, it’s all part of a strategy of “unintended interaction”.
“It’s all about residents getting to know each other. We’ve built seats into the spaces so people can stop and have a chat, they’re all communal spaces so if you go on holiday for two weeks, you know your tomatoes will be looked after. It’s a way of building a community, and research has shown that people who know even two or three of their neighbours are much less likely to move. Our scheme has a long term plan to create a static community. It was a differentiator in the sales process, and it became a reason for some people to buy here.”
He’ll need to maintain this wholesome image to continue selling homes, as the development won’t be completed for another decade. Lend Lease has allocated a small amount of the service charge budget to set up garden clubs that provide tool sheds, soil, sufficient light, water and security.
In Brixton, Higgins Homes has also caught the bug at its Oval Quarter development, where 7.2 out of 12.5 hectares are devoted to green space, with allotments due to be completed “to bring residents together.” Sales and marketing director Jeremy Marcus also thinks allotments have grown in popularity since the financial crash.
“People are much more money savvy since the recession and always seeking ways to stay economical, which can be done through growing your own produce.”
So why aren’t more new build developers digging the idea of allotments? “A lot of them are dealing with one-off buildings, so they don’t care that much about creating longer term benefits,” said Mayes. “In 10 years time, we’ll still be selling phases of this development, so for us it’s great if we can prove that it’s a place where people want to stay.”