Providing adequate housing for London in both quantum and quality terms was one of the key themes of day two at this year’s MIPIM. But a truly polycentric city could also be helped by stimulating the cultural industries and providing more infrastructure that such growth will require.
Deputy mayor James Murray said that the new draft London Plan’s requirement that London builds 65,000 homes annually is ‘a really important starting point’ and that ‘it is possible to start tackling the housing crisis in London’ even if it can sometimes seem ‘so enormous and difficult to challenge’. The mayor has taken an important position on the Green Belt which has forced a lot of conversations about optimising and increasing density, Murray went on, with encouragement of development on small sites and in outer London where historically this kind of scale of development has not happened. But there were challenges. ‘We in London acknowledge that we don’t have all the investment and powers we need to deliver 65,000 homes a year now’, he said, and Londoners are a sceptical public to such change. ‘For me a real focus will be in coming years to earn Londoners’ trust’ with an emphasis on providing affordable housing, the right infrastructure to go along with development, and design. ‘I can’t overemphasise the importance of new housing being design-led’, Murray said.
For Croydon’s Jo Negrini there are huge opportunities in outer London for intensification, notwithstanding the ‘emotional’ nature of working at small sites, but the challenge was to create ‘distinct spaces that have their own sense of place’, as well as the level of infrastructure to support such housing growth. It was also important to have a better conversation with Londoners about the changing city, she agreed, or else ‘battlefields’ will become more localised.
In the following session, again organised by NLA on the London Stand at the Cannes show, LCCI president Tony Pidgley said in an interview with NLA’s Peter Murray that it was still galling to see the lengths of time it takes to get planning and deliver housing, and that the industry needs to address this or risk more people being unable to get on the housing ladder. It cannot be healthy, he added, that it can take up to two years to sign Section 106s. ‘That can’t be right for society’. Public/ private collaboration was perhaps the answer, along with getting on with Crossrail 2 and the 200,000 homes that will catalyse. But skills are a real problem, and perhaps one of the biggest to come out of Brexit, said Pidgley. So his company, Berkeley, is helping on the modern methods of construction side of things by building a factory at Ebbsfleet that will be capable of providing some 1000 units a year. On Green Belt, however, Pidgley was perhaps most forthright, saying that with a housing crisis the value of some sites needs to be captured. An independent commission was perhaps required to look at the issue. ‘We won’t let this rest.
Housing is one thing, but culture is also important if London is to avoid becoming a series of dormitory towns. Deputy mayor Jules Pipe said at another session that the GLA wants a polycentric city, with culture an important part of the mayor’s vision for ‘good growth’. All the more so, in fact, given that it generates some £47bn a year to the London economy and employs one in six Londoners. But the loss of 25% of pubs, 30% of creative workspace, 40% of music venues and 50% of LGBT venues means we need to be ‘proactive’ in preserving the capital’s ‘absolutely vital’ spaces, not least as incubators of the next generation of talent. The new draft London Plan aims to help with its emphasis on creative enterprise zones and creative land trusts. Other speakers at the event included dRMM’s Sadie Morgan, who mourned that despite its power, there was a message on creative industries that still isn’t getting through, despite her constant haranguing of government to recognise its extent. ‘the people who need convincing are the economists who don’t have a place for quality of life in the spreadsheet’, she said. Pam Alexander said it was important that culture could act as a catalyst but one which did not price out the creatives; Jo Negrini again, described culture as ‘integral’ and something that should be ‘unleashed’ and ‘provoked’; and FutureCity’s Mark Davy, said that the cultural sector should be cleverer about the language we use and not be shy about shouting about things like footfall.
Finally – as part of the creative industries, the architecture sector in London alone, said Jules Pipe, produces £1.9bn in GVA last year. The new figures produced by GLA with the London Festival of Architecture also include the fact that that figure has grown by 7.7% on average between 2009 and 2016 – faster than the wider creative industries, the London economy and the UK economy as a whole.
By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ