Follow the Old Kent Road – and engage communities

Friday 26 April 2019

London needs more genuine engagement and communication between the public and plan-makers in order to bring more certainty – and less risk – to both parties.

That was one of the key views expressed at last week’s breakfast talk on the future of Old Kent Road, held at NLA as part of its Planning programme.

Southwark Council cabinet lead Johnson Situ said that the authority was grateful for the work NLA has done over the past months on creating the ‘Museum of Us’ ‘urban room’ at 231 Old Kent Road, which will help in the area’s development plans. Despite improvements having been made over recent years in Southwark, particularly in education, there were still 10,000 families on the housing waiting list, said Situ, 4500 of them in the immediate OKR area. And this is at the heart of the authority’s plans for the area. ‘The ambition is yes, to deliver homes, but also crucially the reprovision of industrial space’, said Situ. The authority is listening to its communities over plans, including Livesey Park, Frensham Street and Page’s Walk as well as ideas to activate the area’s flyover with ‘interesting market spaces’ and others by Patel Taylor at an early stage for a lido at the Gasholder Park. To enable better communication with residents, Southwark is also creating live consultation maps and is going into schools to talk through plans for the area, Situ added. ‘We know that young people will be living with changes for the longest, so it’s really important that we hear from them’.

A key plank of this growth, however, is predicated on the extension of the Bakerloo line, which can help to lift the 8,000 homes Southwark says it can provide without it to 20,000 if the green light is given. It is campaigning to secure this via website with three potential tube stations on the OKR.

Urbik director Lee Mallett said it was ‘heartening’ to see Southwark putting in so much effort to engage with the community on such a ‘massive task’ and that the planning system was a ‘fundamental part of the welfare state’, there to deliver social benefits and equity about how land is developed, with public consent. ‘What people fear about it is that they are presented with a fait accompli’. Thus, schemes like this, and other Opportunity Areas like Stratford High Street require ‘an intense communication effort’ and simple visual explanations, despite what Mallett views as an absence of resources for that within the planning system.

Colin Wilson, head of regeneration Old Kent Road at LB Southwark said they had set out a clear vision, and that any plan is a process that evolves through discussions. He commended his authority’s approach response to be refreshingly open and transparent in the whole process, adding that within the plan there is a move to mix industrial uses at a scale not seen in London before. The conference also heard from Ulrike Steven, co-founder of what:if pojects and a local business and resident involved in the Livesey Exchange project to create workshops and spaces for training and cultural programmes on OKR. The scheme won Good Growth funding from Mayor Sadiq Khan last year.

David Taylor
Editor, New London Quarterly

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