Mayor Sadiq Khan should carry out a review of the Green Belt according to a poll of built environment professionals, community groups and the public attending The Big Debate at Friends House in Euston on Monday night.
The poll also suggested that the Mayor should commission a 3D virtual model of London and stage car-free days like Paris. Modern methods of construction are likely to help London deliver the homes it needs, voters said, despite a planning system that is not working because it is ‘too slow, complex and uncertain’ and London’s essential character as a polycentric city should be retained.
The Debate, organised by New London Architecture (NLA) in association with the London Society and other London-focused organsiations, was arranged to provide new ideas and thinking for the next London Plan, a key document in setting the founding principles for building Sadiq Khan’s ideas for ‘good growth’ in London. Over 2,000 built environment professionals, community groups and local government representatives took part on the night and online.
Key members of Sadiq Khan’s team presented a series of ‘provocations’, first by deputy mayor for housing and residential development James Murray, who said that building ‘more homes of all types and tenures in all parts of the capital is essential to the future economic and social success of the city’. ‘Our plans are really ambitious and that is going to mean we have to work out how we bring Londoners with us’, he said, with the other main challenge being how to overcome barriers to building at high densities to create a ‘London we can all be proud of’, and with tall buildings having a key role to play. Responders included RIBA president elect Ben Derbyshire, who said that political leadership can and should do more, and called for an Expo to be held to look at some 2000 sites across the city ‘to demonstrate what good looks like’.
The second provocation came from deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills Jules Pipe, who concentrated on where growth should take place, with the mayor seeking to accommodate it within London’s boundaries without eroding our Green Belt and other protected open spaces. A wider distribution of growth opportunities may mean maintaining the established strategic emphasis on regeneration of East London’s brownfield capacity, and investigating that in outer London, along with the identification of ‘three or four’ new Opportunity Areas. But a concern is that London’s substantial supply of housing approvals is not turning into completions – there is now a pipeline of approvals for over 250,000 homes and a need for new players to deliver them. Responders included Savills’ head of world research Yolande Barnes, who said that all major world cities are facing problems of ‘urban dispersal’ rather than sprawl, but that it was ‘weird’ that London relied on one type of housing delivery. AECOM’s director, cities and urban development Chris Choa said that growth will be ‘in, up and out; you have to do all three’, but that some 2.5 million homes could be accommodated within a mile of existing train stations in the Green Belt.
Next it was the turn of Ben Plowden, director of surface strategy and planning at TfL, and a debate about how we can deliver better streets and public spaces. These are critical to London’s long-term success, said Plowden, and in improving the physical health of all Londoners. Responders included Royal Parks chairman Loyd Grossman, who noted that London ‘intensely local’, where parks are essential in providing a place where everyone can be on a level field as citizens together. ‘I’d like to see a strategy for London which brings together localities and prizes the public realm and open access for as many people as possible’, he said. Lucy Musgrave, director of Publica said that we have to ‘reset the last 50 years of highway engineering’ and the dominance of the car, while Guardian architecture and design critic Oliver Wainwright suggested that London was facing a problematic rise in privately owned and operated public space. Mayor Sadiq Khan would be better off concentrating on making the banks of the Thames more accessible than the illuminated ‘garnish’ of our bridges, he added.
Fiona Fletcher-Smith, director of development, enterprise and environment at GLA led the next provocation under the broad subject of providing the right spaces to enhance London’s economic activity. London, she said, is losing industrial land at 3-4 times the 37/ha/pa rate indicated in the London Plan, so that it has just 7,000 hectares left. ‘We need to stop losing at that rate and slow the decline’, she said, asking whether more should be done on affordable workspace or cross-subsidised in town centres. Responders included British Land’s head of sustainable Places Sarah Cary, who said there was ‘tension’ between homes and workspaces and permitted development rights had had a knock-on effect on rents and land values across the city. CBRE Planning senior director Jonathan Stoddart said that London needs that ‘last mile delivery’ that industrial logistics operations represent, especially given the rise of internet shopping. ‘This use is essential to any thriving community’, he said. And Karakusevic Carson Architects partner Paul Karakusevic added that he felt the answer on commercial and office space lies in areas like the Upper Lea Valley and eastern end of the Thames Gateway. Multi-level industrial and workspace buildings could work here, he added, as a great solution for additional jobs and production space, facilitated by a flexible planning framework aimed at creating a mix of uses and homes.
Finally, it was the turn of tall buildings. GLA planning manager Colin Wilson presented the background, saying that the first two of the four London Plans ‘actively promoted’ tall buildings in London while the most recent two said they have their place. Tall buildings only meet a small part of London’s need, he said, but still make a significant contribution to housing and a very significant one to office space. Recent tall buildings had helped the city become a little less disaggregated, Wilson claimed. Responders included GIA senior partner Gordon Ingram, who spoke about his virtual 3D model of London and its increasing relevance in the capital to understand environments and tall building proposals; and KPF principal John Bushell, who stressed that mixed use should be fundamental to planning policy. London planning director at Historic England Emily Gee, moreover, said there was a duty to consider the special character of London, and the importance that ‘cherished’ views have in the city’s heritage – which contributed £2.5bn to the economy in 2013. ‘Views belong to all of us’, she said. ‘London is the most complicated city to get a tall building built, but that’s right, because the impact here is so considerable.’
Wilson added that it was vital was that the five issues covered in the sessions above were not dealt with in individual silos – the challenge of planning.
Closing the debate, NLA chairman Peter Murray said that he believed that a 3D model would be of ‘huge benefit’ to the city and that, beyond the ‘positive’ vote that London will grow, post-Brexit, the poll on its status as a polycentric city was also important. ‘It’s key that we should protect local character and how we maintain that character within the pressures we are facing in meeting London’s growing population’, he said.
The event was organised by NLA and supported by Academy of Urbanism; APPG for London’s Planning and Built Environment; BPF; Centre for London; City Architecture Forum; The City Centre; Civic Voice; Future of London; Landscape Institute; LCCI; London First; London Forum of Civic and Amenity Societies; The London Society; LSE Cities; Open City; RICS; RTPI London; Urban Design London; WPA / CPA
The audience voted on key questions on the night, with responses below:
Questions asked before the debate started
1. Should the Mayor carry out a review the Green Belt?
Yes – 84%
No – 16%
2. Is the planning system working? 370 votes
Yes – 23%
No – 77%
3. If not, why not?
Too slow 12%
Too complex 9%
Too uncertain 16%
All three – 43%
4. Can modern methods of construction deliver the additional homes London needs?
Yes – 62%
No – 38%
5. Do you think London’s population will continue to grow after Brexit?
Yes – 89%
No – 11%
Questions asked during the debate
Q1. Are the flexible ‘Regional Summit’ and ‘partners for growth’ arrangements sufficient to coordinate inter-regional relations, or do we need a traditional South East Regional Plan?
Flexible regional summit – 36%
South East Regional Plan – 64%
Q2. Is the future of London as a ‘centric’ city, focused on the CAZ; or polycentric, with greater investment in both inner and outer London town centres?
Polycentric – 93%
A centric city – 7%
Q3. If we are to get well-designed, denser housing development, do borough planning departments need greater resources?
Yes – 94%
No – 6%
Q4. Is design review key to get design quality?
Yes – 64%
No – 36%
Q5. Should we charge for road use rather than taxing vehicles?
Yes – 66%
No – 34%
Q6. Should London have car free days like Paris?
Yes – 85%
Q7. Should all industrial uses be maintained within London, or could some be located to other sites outside London’s boundaries?
All inside – 23%
Some outside London – 77%
Q8. Should the Mayor actively encourage selective mixed-use renewal of some of London’s town centres?
Yes – 98%
No – 2%
Q9. Are tall buildings an integral part of London’s future development?
Yes – 81%
No - 19%
Q10. Should the mayor commission a 3D computer model of London?
Yes - 87%
No – 13%
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