How healthy is high-rise living?

Plans for tower block homes in Hemel Hempstead may create ‘insular communities that will not mix with the rest of the town,’ it was claimed this week.
Illumina - proposed tower block development for London Road, Hemel Hempstead.Illumina - proposed tower block development for London Road, Hemel Hempstead.
Illumina - proposed tower block development for London Road, Hemel Hempstead.

There are currently proposals for two high-rise buildings in Apsley and Boxmoor - The Beacon next to Aldi off the A41 and Illumina in nearby London Road.

Nicholas Boys Smith from social enterprise Create Streets, which promotes meeting housing needs through houses and medium-sized flats, said that tower blocks often create insular communities.

“There is evidence that people living in very big buildings use local shops less, know fewer of their neighbours, use local facilities less and are just less a part of their community,” he said.

“There are ways to mitigate that. If you put people in clusters instead of long corridors you can get more interaction but that is an inward-looking community.

“It doesn’t create, in all the evidence we have seen, a part of Hemel Hempstead.”

However, developers behind the two tower blocks say they will be creating ‘vertical villages’, which will take ‘the classic communal aspects of traditional British village life and imagining them in a modern urban context’.

A planning document put together by Corona Properties for the Illumina development says ‘the property contains commercial and communal spaces, allowing residents to meet most of their needs without needing to leave the property’.

Corona add that the tower blocks will help Dacorum Borough Council meet its housing targets and will complement the existing former Kodak Tower, which was converted into homes in 2010.

But Mr Boys Smith said: “I’m going to assert with confidence, there is enough land to meet the housing need.

“I would be gobsmacked if there isn’t land available to build through a low or medium-size set of sites, which in all the evidence we have shows people prefer and are much happier to see built next to them.”

He said that although these types of tower blocks are being created for the luxury end of the market, he doubts this will prevail.

“I’m not convinced that they will last as luxury housing for the next 100 years. I think there is a high chance that they will be sub-let.”

All 208 flats at The Beacon, granted outline planning permission in June, will be sold privately because no housing association wanted to take on the proposed affordable housing portion of the complex.