The Bartlett Real Estate Institute


BREI explores shared real estate challenges for India and the UK

18 October 2019

What can rapidly growing Indian and UK cities learn from each other?

What can rapidly growing Indian and UK cities learn from each other?

India is undergoing rapid urbanisation as the growing middle class migrates to the cities, while in the UK the housing shortage highlights not just the need for homes, but for more affordable, desirable and sustainable homes and neighbourhoods. A seminar hosted by BREI to explore what the two countries can learn from each other found there were shared goals and challenges in providing sustainable housing, creating connected, healthy communities and finding new finance models.

The opening keynote presentation was given by Charles Amirthan, programme manager team leader at Indian NGO SCAD, who outlined the Smarter Urbanisation initiative, a project undertaken with the UK’s URBED Trust to develop an eco prototype housing unit to meet India’s urgent need for housing.

SCAD, based in Tamil Nadu, empowers marginalised communities through education, healthcare, sustainable land use and women’s development. It works with 600 villages, helping more than 600,000 rural poor people.

In developing the house, not only did SCAD and URBED provide an adaptable, low carbon building constructed from local materials, they also trained the community in construction techniques. However, despite laudable aims, the scheme met some resistance from the new middle class in the area who found the mud plaster reminiscent of mud huts and the natural ventilation and lack of air conditioning not in line with their middle-class aspirations. This illustrates the tension that exists between those pressures for all of us to live with greater environmental awareness and sensitivity, when the perceptions and expectations are of success and progress through greater use of technologies such as air conditioning.

Now 30 SCAD staff plan to take the model further and have created a housing co-op to build on 2.5 acres.

In responding to the presentation given by Charles Amirthan, URBED Trust chair and Bartlett Visiting Professor Dr Richard Simmons said for the UK to provide equal access to neighbourhood planning it could learn from SCAD’s approach to empowering women, providing them with finance, training and resources.

“In the UK we have the Neighbourhood Planning Act which is supposed to empower neighbourhoods to get involved in planning, but there are no resources available so the communities that have developed neighbourhood plans are mainly the well-off,” said Prof Simmons.

This opened up into a wider discussion between those present, ranging from the potential for wider use of hemp as a versatile, low carbon building material to the importance of understanding the need for recognising the combination of the founding principles of what good housing communities have and how these will vary according to the local context.

In bringing the event to a close, Dr Nicholas Falk, founder director of URBED, identified six issues common to India and the UK that could guide further work.

1.  How to create mixed, balanced communities where people can progress without having to leave the community. “It’s a design issue at the neighbourhood level,” he said.

2. The problem of traffic congestion and transport. It is a matter of influencing behaviour not just through control but by providing better options, such as more diverse modes of transport including electric bikes and scooters.

3. Land supply. “We need to change the way land is made available so we can have more variety and overcome the monopoly of the large housebuilding companies which we have in the UK and which could develop in India,” said Dr Falk.

4. Recognising consumer preferences and trying to anticipate how these and consumer behaviour might change.

5. New business models and financial mechanisms, such as co-production and co-operatives. Here the UK could learn from SCAD’s work.