Live-work plans rise in popularity

Live-work units present significant challenges for planners but recent research explores the role that they can play, Jenny Crawford finds.

One of the less discussed aspects of the Barker review was the recommendation that there should be a marked reduction in the extent to which sites are designated for single or restricted use classes. The review particularly promotes the relevance of live-work units in the provision for economic development.

Planners are certainly receiving mixed messages about the viability of properties that combine the functions of the home and workspace. Market viability, loss of business land and regression to single-use residential occupation are among the concerns. The positive attributes include lower costs for businesses and less commuting. The drive to create new eco-towns, for instance, will be an important arena for testing low-carbon lifestyles.

The prospectus published by the DCLG in July requires these settlements to "encourage employment at home through live-work units" and create local resource centres, supported by wi-fi and other IT networks. At the same time, government rural planning adviser Matthew Taylor has been asked to look at practical issues surrounding the potential to increase the provision of live-work space in rural communities.

Urban examples include the Bristol Paintworks, which has been transformed into a creative quarter after having stood empty for 15 years because local planners firmly adhered to the view that it should be an employment site. In the end, the existing buildings on the 5ha site were transformed into a mixed-use complex. Its residents include publishers, film producers and graphic and web designers.

However, the live-work concept still represents a challenge for many planners and councillors on planning committees. Few local authorities or regional development agencies have live-work policies and there is no national policy framework. This is compounded by uncertainties over mortgage and tenancy arrangements and the economic, social and environmental performance of pioneer schemes in the UK and abroad.

Despite the policy vacuum, live-work schemes are increasingly being approved. A number of mixed-use developers are starting to specialise in the purpose-built units. This reflects trends in economic development. With a large proportion of UK businesses now home-based, the boundaries between housing and employment use have become blurred, notably for start-up firms.

A report commissioned by BT finds that such home-based businesses make up 24 per cent of the UK workforce and contribute £364 billion to the economy each year. In this context, the PPS4 is expected to include advice on the development of home-based working.

The RTPI is liaising with the Live-Work Network to deliver a national report on sustainable live-work development. This will be launched at a conference to be hosted by BT at its national headquarters in London next April. The study will report on current practice and the outcomes of existing planning and regeneration policies.

Using case studies from purpose-built schemes in urban and rural contexts, it is expected to throw light on existing and potential markets for live-work development. It will explore what works in terms of design, location, mix and scale. It should offer timely advice for planners and decision-makers on meeting the sustainable housing and economic development agendas.

Jenny Crawford is head of research at the RTPI.

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