Today there are over 2 million home-based businesses, and
beyond that there are more than a million employees working
regularly from home. That adds up to around 12% of the
workforce, and it means around 13% of UK homes have at least one
person working from home.
However, we don’t design homes for this kind of dual purpose
use. With the changing nature of work and the increasing
blurring of work/life boundaries (see our recent reviews of
and CEO of Me), it seems that is time for a fresh and more 21st
Century approach to planning and building the places where we
live and work.
To address this need, three UK Regional Development agencies,
the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Live/Work Network and BT
have produced a ground-breaking report, Tomorrow’s Property
Today – sustainable live/work accommodation in a low carbon
The need to change old habits of thinking
The main problem with achieving more sustainable
communities is that we are planning for tomorrow as if today
isn't happening. Despite the changes in the nature of
work, the planning system is based on the separation of
different land uses - in particular keeping work and residences
This is a hangover from the Industrial Age, when
one might reasonably expect places of employment to be dirty,
noisy, smelly and dangerous - in other words, bad neighbours.
Most work uses in the post-industrial age, however, are not like
To some extent this is recognised in the current
policies for 'mixed-use' development, most commonly found in
town centre regeneration projects. But mixed use in this
sense rarely includes mixing uses in the same building.
It's really about adjacent separate uses. Expectations
that building some offices and homes near to each other will
reduce car use are mostly wishful thinking. What it leads
to is more complex patterns of cross-commuting and new buildings
that do not relate to the changing nature of work.
There is also a certain lack of imagination in
projects to make more sustainable property: eco-homes,
eco-offices and eco-towns. Mostly these focus on technical
fixes to reduce carbon. We can build eco-homes and
eco-offices, but if at the end of the day we are building more
structures than we need to and then we commute between them, it
seems like we are not addressing at a structural and behavioural
level some of our most environment-unfriendly activities.
Changing uses of property
In the new world of work, the ways property can
be used are changing. Smart offices are used more
intensively, so we need fewer offices to serve employees.
Homes can also be used more intensively, when they are also a
workplace. Planning policy, however, rarely recognises
this. In most local development plans, there are
designated 'employment areas' which are expected to provide jobs
in the area.
However, traditional kinds of employment in
manufacturing, warehousing and distribution provide much lower
numbers of jobs, due to greater automation. In these
areas, live/work clusters may well deliver more jobs than
traditional employment uses, and contribute far more to the
vitality of an area. Yet this approach is generally
resisted by planners, while developers tend to focus on the
value they can achieve through purely residential development.
Raising awareness - if you don't know what it
is, you can't plan for it
One of the main obstacles to live/work
development is the lack of awareness about what it is and how it
can be planned for, delivered and regulated. So
Tomorrow's Property Today is to a large extent about raising
awareness of the varieties of live/work, and showing how it
works in practice.
There is an abundance of case studies from
around the UK, and a chapter on live/work in the USA. Over
there, in many areas it is a normal form of development, and
planners have a different set of instruments for planning and
The report also looks at the state of the
live/work market, and sets out the conditions to enable it to
grow. It also explore the issues around planning and the
latest research into the sustainability of home-based working.
However, one of the critical findings is the
almost total policy vacuum in which the new phenomenon of
live/work is emerging. Until recently, there was no
national policy with regard to live/work, despite one or two
generally encouraging words (with caveats) about homeworking.
This left local authorities, who deal with planning applications
for live/work, making up policy on the hoof as applications come
in. Often, an application for live/work will fall foul of
either policies to protect residential land or policies to
protect employment areas.
Where local authorities have policies about
live/work, it is often restrictive and shows little
understanding of how home-based businesses work. Panning
conditions imposed can sometimes make it impossible for would-be
occupiers to get a mortgage.
Sustainability is also about enterprise
The report also emphasises the importance of
enterprise. Government policy on home-based working - with
the 'right to request' flexible working - tends to focus
on employees. But two-thirds of people who work from home
are self-employed and/or small business proprietors.
It is people running businesses from home who
are most in need of properly designed workspace at home, and who
are most likely to be working from home on a full-time rather
than a part-time basis. This also means that people
running small businesses can potentially make a greater
contribution to reducing their carbon footprint by working from
home, as it is a full-time activity.
The report also makes the point that enterprise
is a key ingredient of creating vibrant and viable sustainably
communities. Having people who work in the community
where they live and create wealth there helps to boost the local
economy and provide local work opportunities.
The report has a series of recommendations for
government, planners and developers. Key recommendations
Launch a national exemplar scheme of
live/work developments - the development of exemplar
clusters in each region of the country
Introduce a specific use class for
live/work, supported by clear national policy
Take a flexible approach to work uses in the
work space - rather than having bureaucratic restrictions on
the work use, apply a nuisance/hazard/amenity test to
prevent un-neighbourly uses
Remove VAT from new-build live/work, and
exempt all home-based businesses from capital gains tax
support the creation of live/work clusters,
rather than isolated live/work units, as this has greater
viability and sustainability potential, and can bring in
added benefits to the existing homeworking/small business
The report and the launch conference show that
there is a growing interest in live/work and an openness to look
at new ways of doing things. But there's still a long way
to go if we are not to end up with yesterday's property