Being a property anorak I couldn’t stop myself dragging my family around the Peckham House this weekend. It’s not empty, in fact it was full to bursting with visitors for the London open house weekend. Some of you may remember this remarkable house as one of the stars of the Grand Designs tv series. The extraordinary owners managed to create a house in the most unpromising site imaginable, with planning restrictions that would have lead most to think that there was no chance of being allowed to build anything. But not only did they gain permission, they built a house that is pure joy, for the price of a very ordinary flat.
It is that imaginative thinking and that tenacious determination that we need more of if more homes are going to be created out of empty properties. It is easy to see why it is difficult to return empty homes to use, and easy to see how it would be expensive to try, but with imagination and tenacity almost anything is possible. Today I have ben talking to two great examples of both. Urban Infill’s idea is to fill not just the voids in buildings, but the voids around and above them too. You might think of this as filling the missing teeth in the smile of a streetscape
For sheer tenacity look no further than Phoenix housing cooperative. I’ve written about them before, but their latest project in Bow East London shows how tenacity and hard work can overcome huge financial shortfalls. The four flats that they have asked me to open this Friday had been abandoned buy their owner because they were uneconomic to reuse. But for a sixth of the cost Phoenix have brought them back into use
More imagination and tenacity was called for by the Audit Commission last week. It concluded that councils had become too focussed on building new homes at the expense of reusing old ones. It said that by tackling just 5% of empty homes councils could save a staggering £500billion from their homelessness costs. A rather more edifying public spending cut than some have been suggesting over the last few days