London needs a new version of the Abercrombie Plan to reap the advantages of the capital within a wider South East but ‘doesn’t stand a chance in hell’ of meeting its housing targets if it doesn’t look beyond its boundaries.
Those were two of the themes to emerge from a special NLA conference last week on shaping growth across the South East.
The man making the claims was Andrew Jones, managing director of design planning and economics at Aecom, who suggested that the London region needed to assess how it will be governed in the future, perhaps through a senate or commission to look after the region’s needs. ‘The boundaries for London aren’t right at the moment’, he said, adding that by 2036 we will probably be a million homes short of our housing needs so could need to reassess Green Belt land as well as instigate a bold New Town programme that designates new ones as well as reexamines existing. ‘I don’t think there’s a hope in hell of London meeting its housing targets within its boundary of London.’
Cllr David Hodge, Deputy Chairman, South East England Councils said that, with some 23.3 million people and rising in the South East, the question was not whether we need new housing but how we can deliver it. Development in the Green Belt should certainly not be ruled out completely, he added. But people also needed more than a roof. ‘What we really need are viable communities, not just identikit boxes which are being built all over the country at the moment’, he said. ‘We want central government to cut the puppeteer strings. Hold us to account. Give us greater control over our own finances.’
For its part, the government is clear that localism is about how the needs of local communities are met, not whether they are met, said Emma Fraser, deputy director - housing growth, Department for Communities and Local Government. The DCLG strongly supports joint plans and local authorities and public bodies have a duty to cooperate ‘constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis’. Government was also committed to addressing the barriers blocking housing sites, Fraser added, and is to publish a prospectus on New Towns next. Areas like Ebbsfleet can build on a history of cooperation in providing some 15,000 new homes via a UDC that will bring funding coordination and expertise. Chairman designate of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation Michael Cassidy said his organization is engaged in ‘scene setting’, with at least 20 strands of work aimed at getting the most out of the area’s ‘remarkable opportunity.’
Mike Edwards, UCL Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Planning, provided the background on the UK’s ‘sorry history of attempts at regional planning’, with structures being invested, tried and dropped. ‘We have an enormous momentum going in the growth of London and the south east region, and everyone except me thinks that’s perfectly okay.’ Edwards said that this was based on a very inadequate concept of growth that was illusory since it was based on price increases of housing and carried diseconomies of size as they affect things like congestion in transport and other utilities or air quality.
Alexander Jan, Director, Arup detailed some of the London Infrastructure Plan’s stated requirements for the capital by 2050, including 1.5 million more homes – double the rate of building at the moment – a 20% increase in energy supply capacity and 600 more schools and colleges. One of the plan’s key drivers - population growth for sub-national regions was almost at 30 per cent by 2037, with London adding some 2,000 people every eight days. But it was a mistake to think of London and the South East as rivals he said – they are symbiotic, both sides of the same equation.
The conference also heard from Stewart Murray, Assistant Director for Planning, GLA, who posed the question of what sustainable growth might be for London, given the ‘unprecedented’ population rises to a city of 10 million in the 2030s, towards a review of the London Plan that will be published in 2019/20. There were also views from across the wider South East region presented by speakers including Graham Hughes, Executive Director for Economy, Transport and Environment, Cambridgeshire County Council; Jane Custance, Head of Regeneration and Development, Watford Borough Council; and Bev Hindle, Deputy Director Strategy and Infrastructure Planning, Oxfordshire County Council. The situation with London and the South East was a bit like going to the school disco, said Barbara Cooper, Director of Environment, Kent County Council. ‘We see somebody we like in the middle. We are all talking to our friends about should we or shouldn’t we, but I think we are yet to make our first embrace. I know that is difficult with Boris but I think that is the stage we are at.’
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly