Letter: Move people into our city centres

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is clear that we will need very substantial additional housing to cater for population and social changes already under way ("We must start planning for an urban future", 6 June).

One of the striking differences between British and Continental cities is the number of people living in the centre. Those cities whose vibrancy we so admire - Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam - have large and diverse residential populations in their downtown areas. The proportion of people living in central areas of British cities is vanishingly small. For example, Leeds has a population of 700,000, of whom 900 live in the city centre.

Yet there is a massive amount of vacant accommodation in central areas of our cities, located above shops and other commercial premises. Some estimates put this as high as 500,000 potential dwellings.

Urban development is often more expensive, at least in the short term, than greenfield development. It will also require investment in cultural and social facilities as well as transport. Are we prepared to will the means to do the job properly? Can we afford not to?

TIM MARS

Head of Policy and Campaigns

The Civic Trust

London SW1

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