Old Kent Road must build on its local business base

Monday 18 December 2017

Old Kent Road is set to ‘pass go’ and collect a new future as it makes the case for a £3.4bn Bakerloo Line Extension to catalyse its regeneration and Opportunity Area status. But it must guard against losing its industry and recognise its diverse economy to embrace what a ‘City for all Londoners advocates.’

Those were some of the key messages to emerge from a breakfast talk at NLA last week on the Old Kent Road, once maligned as the least desirable Monopoly property but now with the possibility to contribute a major chunk of London’s housing needs. ‘It is never going to be Park Lane’, said Southwark leader Cllr Peter John, ‘but we can certainly make the Old Kent Road a place which really delivers for London, for Southwark, and most importantly for the people who currently live and work there.’

The area is set to be the location for 20,000 new homes (assuming the BLE), 7,000 of them affordable, and 10,000 new jobs, as well as elements such as a new FE college, an ambition for three new tube stations and two new primary schools. ‘That’s big stuff’, said John, but it also needs to be a new ‘town centre’; a changed Old Kent Road which preserves and integrates existing businesses, in line with a new Area Action Plan – printed on the Old Kent Road.

But Professor Mark Brearley, head of Cass Cities at the London Metropolitan University and proprietor, Kaymet, said that although there had been a ‘welcome shift to recognising the value of a diverse economy’, urgent action was needed to ‘fix the damage’ inflicted by Southwark in two years of ‘open season’, with many businesses being ‘brushed aside’ and several now making departure plans. ‘Our economy right now is getting a kicking’, said Brearley. ‘Our council made it happen… ‘We need Southwark to start a much fuller dialogue now to stop cooking it all up in private with their consultants who don’t get out much.’ Instead the council needed to embrace what the City for All Londoners advocates with opportunity area plans prepared in collaboration with local stakeholders.

In response, John said the AAP was not the final version and emphasised his desire to ‘preserve and enhance what we’ve got’. ‘I’d say to developers or their representatives rushing to kick businesses out stop, stop, stop! That is not the vision for Old Kent Road.’

The conference also heard from the GLA’s assistant director, planning, Juliemma McLoughlin, who said that the Bakerloo Line Extension is ‘essential to unlocking the area’s potential’, but that we have reached a ‘tipping point’ on London’s industrial – the London Plan sets out how the sector can be intensified, and Old Kent Road could act as an exemplar for the rest of London. Vertical colocation will be an important part of that answer, although it is difficult to achieve, but Old Kent Road could be a ‘showcase of how London can innovate’, said McLoughlin. In discussion, regeneration advisor Claudette Forbes said the Bakerloo Line Extension would help the borough reach its aspirations on growth, accessibility and a reduction of dependency on the car, while Maccreanor Lavington founding director Gerard Maccreanor said only now was London and the GLA taking seriously the problem of losing industrial, 10 years on from Brearley’s warnings and early work on the provision of workspace.

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly
@davidntaylor 

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