London’s suburbs set for ‘new renaissance’

Friday 1 December 2017

© Patel Taylor

London’s outer suburbs could be the setting for a ‘new renaissance’ powered by the new draft London Plan, better, more intensive use of public land and work to move civil servants out of Whitehall.

So said Sherin Aminossehe, Executive Director – Head of Government Property Unit, CabinetOffice as she gave the keynote address at the London’s Towns half day conference at NLA last week.

The past few decades have seen the suburbs transform but not always for the better, said Aminossehe; if the capital is to build the affordable homes it needs, however, the outer areas will aid that transformation. ‘We don’t want to end up in a place like Paris, where we have a two-tier system of certain inner boroughs which have all the infrastructure, and the outers, who may not’.

The One Public Estate programme, with which central government has worked with the local government association since 2013, will shortly announce that it covers 319 boroughs, including Waltham Forest, where the vision is for a multi-use town centre hub from its town hall. The project will create new homes and jobs, and it is also working in Sutton on the Sutton Cancer Hub, supporting on funding and masterplanning, with more work at Whipps Cross and Edgware town centre for Barnet council. The hubs programme, indeed, concentrates on where civil servants will be placed in future, given there is now no space or need for them in Whitehall, said Aminossehe. Indeed, as part of the industrial strategy, research suggested that in one department, just 15% of civil servants only saw a minister. ‘So there’s a fallacy about the fact that: “I have to be close to my minister, I have to be close to my secretary of state for me to count”’, said Aminossehe. ‘Therefore, we are planning around that.’

The outer London ring and further afield – in line with regional parity – will be Government’s starting points, said Aminossehe.

‘If we want to create a vision for London which isn’t just about the centre; which isn’t just about the headlines that you read in the media, the suburbs need extra investment’, she said. ‘They need better infrastructure, they need better ways of getting there, more affordable houses, more support from central government but also regional government to make sure that there is a credible vision for that next generation that is going to come to London, that is going to make their homes there, so that the capital can actually continue to thrive and do well.’

Matthew Punshon, Director of Property Services, Metropolitan Police said that the Met was fundamental to communities without being particularly focused on the built environment. Designers need to think about modern threats, Punshon said, but the Met was ‘struggling’ with cuts to its budget and officer numbers will fall even in the face of resource-hungry incidents like Grenfell Tower.

Other public-body speakers included TfL head of housing strategy Robbie Erbmann on delivering 10,000 homes by May 2021, 50% of them affordable, across around 200 sites, many of them involving decking over tracks or stations. Mark Baigent, interim divisional director, housing and regeneration at Tower Hamlets, looked at delivering affordability through setting up a local housing company, having written his own guide on the subject. And Jonathan Martin, director of investment and delivery at Waltham Forest spoke about working in partnership to enable long-term change across the borough’s eight town centres and housing zone. The latter has secured £40m through ‘positive working’ with the GLA and a target of at least 2,500 new homes to 2025, 1000 new jobs and strengthening the enterprise quarter. Finally, Jeremy Stibbe, executive director of assets and investments at Genesis Housing Association argued that JVs and partnerships deliver more than standard contracting methods.

By David Taylor - Editor, New London Quarterly

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