118km of outer London by bike - London’s Towns cycle

Friday 20 October 2017

© Joe Howard Photography

To celebrate the launch of NLA’s new insight study and exhibition, ‘London’s Towns: Shaping the polycentric city’, Peter Murray, NLA and Andy Matthews, Pitman Tozer Architects led a selection of London’s built environment’s best thinkers on a 10 hour cycle loop of outer London, exploring development and regeneration across London’s Towns.

The 118km cycle picked up a wide variety of outer London’s highstreets, towns centres and villages, examining the future of these areas’ density, infrastructure and mix of uses. 

Watch the video report on the cycle and interview with Peter Murray, by EG:

Below, some of the cyclists share their thoughts and findings from the day.

Peter Murray, Chairman, New London Architecture

Cycling is the best way to look at cities. No other method of transport can give the opportunity to travel a reasonable distance and actually have a real connection to the places you are in, and allows for a variety of routes. The car has a huge impact on one’s enjoyment of space. Traffic congestion in outer London is something which really needs to be dealt with.

Roger Hawkins, Founding Partner, Hawkins / Brown

It was amazing how much green space there was along the route - surely supporting the idea of London as a National Park, currently being proposed. But we also passed underused and undeveloped areas which would provide appropriate capacity for much of the 50,000 new homes required annually, together with workspace, schools, health centres and cultural spaces that London needs over the next 20 years. The benefit of these existing neighbourhoods is that they are well served by transport, shops and public space.

Sarah Cary, Head of Sustainable Places, British Land

I was very impressed with the level of investment going into pedestrian and cycle infrastructure in many town centres; new road layouts, paving, cycle lanes, great lighting and street furniture. A large amount of residential development happening both north and south of the river, with both big schemes and infill development. However, equally noticeable were the multiple train stations serving single storey highstreets. There is also an apparent shortage of a healthy ‘workspace’ economy - offices, semi-industrial, or creative-type working.

Luke Tozer, Director, Pitman Tozer Architects & Andy Matthews, Architect, Pitman Tozer Architects

What was interesting was the variety of characters in the outer boroughs with all areas displaying unique traits - more suburban to the South East, green and park open to the West, more urban to the North and with former industrial uses to the East. All present challenges in terms of how to successfully develop and increase housing provision whilst retaining the town like character of each area. Sensitive and appropriate ‘good growth’ appears possible around local transport hubs with potential for increased density. London has always felt like a collection of villages of unique character and its growth should encourage the prosperity and growth of the outer areas. 

Lucie Murray, Senior Programme Curator, New London Architecture 

London’s Towns are so diverse, each one unique to its locality - it was terrific to explore so many of them in one day and understand what ‘good growth’ might mean for each of them. It was encouraging to see so much investment into public realm, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Hopefully it encourages more people to use modes of active travel and we might see less congestion in the near future! 

Ruth Baker, Architect, Ryder

It was interesting to see quite a generalised contrast between north and south of the Thames. South of the river, investment lately focuses on the quality of the urban realm with improvements like the Eltham High Street project which is great for new cycling infrastructure however the fairly low-rise infill developments are quite conservative in terms of regeneration. North of the river is very different, with large scale masterplanning projects like the Colindale regeneration area are rapidly changing the shape of the borough, however connections between isolated pockets of development were not as enjoyable on a bicycle.  

Jim Munson, Head of Sales & Marketing, Genesis Housing Association

There are very clearly different rates of pace in the redevelopment of London’s Towns. The sense of space in many of London’s towns is vast and left a strong impression that much more could be done to make the most of it. Because of the greater affordability offered by London’s Towns, they offer a fantastic opportunity for the development of mixed communities through a mix of tenure offers; Shared Ownership has the potential to be a mainstream tenure offer as part of this mix, helping to realise Londoners’ home ownership aspirations. Also, London’s cycling infrastructure is improving but still has a long way to go!

Cycle the route!

If you are inspired and would like to follow the group’s cycle loop of outer London, a full GPS route map can be viewed here

A selection of photos from the cycle can be viewed here.

This forms part of the new exhibition and insight study London’s Towns: Shaping the polycentric city from the London Boroughs programme.


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London's Towns: Shaping the polycentric city


Exploring the important role town centres are playing in accommodating London's population growth, this exhibition showcases the results from our latest Insight Study - showing how they are being reshaped to provide not only great places to live, but also to work, to serve the needs of local communities while supporting London as a whole.