The new draft London Plan shares characteristics with Abercrombie’s 1944 plan, including a desire to create a green capital city providing space for its inhabitants to enjoy healthier living. But while Abercrombie’s ‘top-down’ plan epitomised a ‘golden era’ of planning, it also had the freedom to draw on public spirit and an ‘Ealing Films’ view of the capital – without having to deal with its wide-ranging opinions and requirements.
Those were some of the key points made at a special NLA event last week to mark 60 years since the death of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, as well as the 50th anniversary of two of his great legacies, Milton Keynes and the Lea Valley Park.
During World War II, Abercrombie was commissioned to create a vision for London’s post-victory future. The Greater London Plan contained most major physical developments that the capital has since seen, including new towns, the M25 orbital motorway, Heathrow and Gatwick airports and the greenbelt of protected countryside which surrounds the city.
But the protection of the Green Belt in Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan means we will have to build more densely, contrasting with Abercrombie’s time, said NLA chairman Murray.
Professor Tony Travers, Director, LSE London said that the Abercrombie plan was ‘from a powerful individual with a desire to deliver change’, in a very different world. ‘It was top-down, it was elite’, with public spirit but in an era in which little attention had to be paid to public opinion, he said. ‘It was good for people, by people who knew what would be good for people.’ There were ‘establishment certainties’ and theories on planning, dealing with a city of 8.5 million but looking to trim; to manage the movement to a better version of London where people did not live in insanitary conditions. The 2017 version, by contrast, was produced by a large team with an ‘enormous’ amount of consultation, and undoubtedly builds on a world city vision that is not unique to London or this plan, said Travers. It is also ‘nudging the existing world’; is democratic and broad, and envisages the same population Abercrombie dealt with, but rising to 10.8 million by 2041 rather than declining. ‘The new document is very much more cautious in the way it puts things’, Travers said. ‘It’s all about getting people to do things voluntarily’, rather than the ’Ealing Films’ view of London and Britain, bringing its spirit together to make a better place. Personal political views are now also vastly more fragmented. ‘Life was easier for planners in 1944…this time it has to do it with the consent of millions of people and a vast civil society, all of which will have to express its own opinions. We can look back to Abercrombie as a golden era of planning but also where the public had much less say.’
The event also heard from HCA head of strategy Louise Wyman, who welcomed the plan’s ambitious housing targets and Heather Cheesbrough, director of planning and strategic transport at Croydon, who suggested London needs a more sophisticated approach to Green Belt. Finally, Jamie Ratcliff, assistant director of policy, programme and services at the GLA, noted how positive the new London Plan is on tall buildings, but also on development on small sites and its specific requirement of a minimum space standard of 37m2 for homes, largely to safeguard future flexibility.
By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly