Home North London In north London, a radical Victorian approach has solved a very modern...

In north London, a radical Victorian approach has solved a very modern crisis


Most agree that Britain does not have enough homes. Among the most affected areas is south Tottenham, home to a thriving Orthodox Jewish community. It is also an area which provides hope for those of us campaigning for a traditionalist solution to the housing crisis. Where large families, squeezed into Victorian homes, were in need of extra capacity, their innovative solution involved extending terraced homes directly upwards within a strict visual design code. 

It is a vital yet undercovered story that may well provide a solution to spiralling rents and development blocks in neighbourhoods across the country. So we at Create Streets are championing it. 

While many Londoners opted to move to the suburbs to raise their family amidst the housing shortage, this was simply not a possible solution for some residents in south Tottenham. It was not just that much of the community is close and culturally linked, but also a question of Shabbat. On the sabbath, Haredi Jews may only walk to get about and may not walk more than 2,000 cubits, about one kilometre. This limits them to living within a close radius to synagogues. Finding a similar arrangement elsewhere can be difficult.

Some families responded to the capacity problem by building large, unsightly square dormer extensions, out of keeping with the existing heritage building stock. Others objected to this and suggested a better way, working collaboratively with Haringey planners, local councillors and the neighbourhood to create a strict and predictable visual design guide. 

This made it easier to develop an extension, but only if it emulated the original materials and ornament used to build the neighbourhood. Homes that follow the code look as if they have always been three-storey buildings, despite having been subject to significant recent extensions. They continue bays windows upwards, weave in decorative brickwork and use original tiling. Doing it differently is of course still possible, but simply not a possible solution.

The visual design guide has been extremely popular with homeowners. I counted well over 200 uses out of about 1,000 eligible homes. Homeowners have added as many as four bedrooms and hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra value. One local councillor told me that many families reported reduced behavioural challenges now that children could have a bedroom of their own. 

It has also been popular with neighbours. Two and a half years since its implementation, around 138 consultees said they approved of the policy, many of whom did so strongly. Only 32 disapproved. It just goes to show that development can be more popular if it predictably enhances a neighbourhood’s character; if it is seen to be driven to the benefit of existing residents as much as anyone else. 

Many other neighbourhoods need more bedrooms, and south Tottenham’s example ought to be part of the answer. Instead of forcing people to move out of cities to the suburbs in order to have enough space for children, we should give them the choice of a more comfortable, walkable and sustainable life in the place they already call home.

Ben Southwood is Head of Research at Create Streets