Need to know: What the rise in co-living schemes means for planners

More purpose-built managed housing developments in which residents share communal spaces are coming forward, says John Mumby.

Co-living: Few councils have clear planning policy (pic: Getty)
Co-living: Few councils have clear planning policy (pic: Getty)

What is co-living and how prevalent is it?

Co-living refers to purpose-built, managed developments that include a combination of personal and shared amenity spaces. They usually involve smaller-than-average private living accommodation alongside communal kitchens and living areas. 

Generally speaking, developments are located in urban areas in close proximity to a range of services and facilities. 

There are more co-living schemes out there than maybe people realise. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to delivery, so each scheme has its own individual characteristics and is not always identified as a co-living development by its corporate branding.

How does national planning policy address co-living?

It does not specifically address co-living. However, national guidance allows local planning authorities (LPAs) to assess their own individual housing need as part of development plans, which allows them to articulate whether or not there is a local requirement for co-living.

How does the Greater London Authority’s policy address co-living?

The emerging London Plan includes specific guidance on co-living. Helpfully, it sets out criteria large-scale co-living developments need to meet. For instance, developments will need to be "located in an area well-connected to local services and employment by walking, cycling and public transport". This provides clarity for developers seeking to bring forward co-living opportunities. 

While this is beneficial, the plan does not provide detail on how to deliver smaller-scale co-living schemes. 

How are LPAs approaching co-living? 

Few councils have clear planning policy or guidance covering co-living. Many do not have an aspiration to bring forward co-living through new policy, or indeed know what it is. Without direct consideration of co-living through government planning guidance, the questions for LPAs when considering proposals relate to what contribution thay can make towards meeting housing delivery, as well as which demographics’ needs they will serve and whether a co-living development will provide any affordable housing. 

All these matters have to be resolved through the planning application process. It is worth noting that a small number of London LPAs have embraced co-living, and have developed their own criteria to assess development proposals. 

What concerns do some LPAs have about co-living and what do they tend to want from co-living developers to allay these fears?

Given the relatively recent entry to the UK market, co-living can raise concerns from LPAs with regard to the quality of accommodation, amenity space provision, intensification of use, as well affordability and any council’s overall need to deliver conventional housing. To address these, developers need to consider who the demographic is, what the need is, how existing communities will be supported and clearly present these matters through the pre-application consultation and application stages. The ability to be able to demonstrate flexibility in unit type and size of accommodation through future proofing is beneficial, so too is the opportunity to provide co-living as part of schemes that provide a range of dwelling types.

Is there any prospect of policy developing further to support co-living developments?

There are signs that policy is developing, especially in the metropolitan urban areas. London as a strategic region is already addressing co-living and others are showing signs of embracing change. Manchester City Council, for instance, has permitted co-living developments. 

John Mumby is a director at Iceni Projects


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