A London borough just voted to leave the European Union

"This'll put us on the map". Image: Google.

The further you go from a city, the less a part of the place its fringes are likely to feel. Throw in a strong existing identity and mediocre transport links, and you can end up with residential suburbs that don't look or feel anything like the city proper.

So it is that London is generally an open-minded, multicultural sort of a place, but its eastern-most borough just voted to leave the European Union:

London (AFP) - A local council in London became the first in Britain to endorse leaving the European Union in a vote.

Havering Council in east London voted by 30 to 15 in favour of a motion tabled by a councillor from the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage.

Havering, for those who haven't had the pleasure, is the chevron-shaped borough clinging to the inside of the M25 where London turns into Essex. Its biggest town is Romford; it's also where the District line ends up if you stay on it for so long that you can no longer remember not being on there.

But despite having been part of London for 51 years now, the area still identifies with Essex at least as much as the city. It's also London's whitest borough (83 per cent white British at the time of the last census, compared to 45 per cent in the city as a whole).

Correlation is not causation, but in the 2014 election UKIP got 28 per cent of the vote and seven of the 54 seats on the local council. It came second only to the Tories in terms of votes (22 seats on 28 per cent), but was pushed into third place by the Hornchurch Residents Association who got 10 seats out of 10 per cent of the vote. It’s not a hotbed of radical thought, is the point here.

And now it’s seceding from the European Union.

"It is a fantastic result," said the UKIP councillor, Lawrence Webb. "We as local councillors have to make decisions on rules and regulations that come out of the EU. They have a direct impact on local services."

Actually, of course, it's doing no such thing. British local authorities are among the weakest in the world. They barely have the power to build their own transport links or raise their own taxes; they're not about to start their own foreign policy.

Nonetheless, the councillors in a borough of one of Britain's most Europe-friendly cities just registered their desire to leave the European Union by a factor of two to one.

If the UK as a whole votes to leave the European Union, it's widely believed that it could trigger a second independence referendum in a Scotland determined to stay in. If the UK votes to stay in, it's not inevitable that the London Borough of Havering could vote to secede, Passport to Pimlico style. But can say for sure that it wouldn’t? Can we be truly certain?

Yes, we can.

This was a silly vote.


Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.