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Creating the London of tomorrow

London's deputy mayor Nicky Gavron chose last week's MIPIM property conference in Cannes to give developers a sneak preview of the spatial development strategy. David Taylor met her

Nicky Gavron is excited. London's deputy mayor has declared that the forthcoming spatial development strategy (SDS) for the capital will hinge on the 'big idea' of building extensive new public transport networks and pushing for high-density development around them, as well as at nine suburban town centres and the existing main London termini. The move is what Gavron brands the 'opposite response' to decades of policies of dispersal in a bid to foster sustainable growth, 'economically, socially and environmentally', and without undermining London's 'world city' economy.

Gavron was talking to the AJ last week at MIPIM, the Cannes property conference, and in the build-up to the publication in the coming few weeks of a short consultation document.

In about 30 pages, the Greater London Authority will attempt to set out how it sees the capital developing in the next 15 to 20 years, before a full SDS draft in late 2001/early 2002. The final paper will be examined in public and Gavron hopes the SDS - which will include fiscal measures and mechanisms to achieve its aims - will be in force by the end of next year.

'We're trying to be proactive, not negative, and will be including the mechanisms, ' she says, 'not just the what, but the how.'

Essentially the paper will look to focus development, particularly in 'affordable office space', around London Bridge, King's Cross and Paddington stations in the capital, but Gavron is also keen to give an initial push to networks of new public transport systems such as Orbirail - a new network of 'nodes' around the inner city which could be built inside five years.

She also wants to see three new cross-London rail lines built: Thameslink 2000, Crossrail and the south-west to north-east line, as well as the modernisation of the existing underground rail system.

That modernisation will be easier in the light of mayor Ken Livingstone and transport boss Bob Kiley's victory last week in securing an investment deal of £4 billion over seven and a half years from government through a part-privatisation measure.

'The prioritisation of [the transport schemes] depends on funding and an Olympic bid, ' said Gavron, adding that if a bid for 2012 was successful then the Hackney/Chelsea line would be brought forward. East London will anyway get a special emphasis in the SDS, with 'opportunity areas' such as Stratford, which will play a role in 'restructuring London' and directing investment to previously deprived areas.

London has many underdeveloped areas, such as the Thames Gateway, where there are 10km developable land, said Gavron, and in the Lea Valley 'a couple of hundred hectares' more are up for grabs. These wedge-shaped corridors of development, as well as the Wandle Valley, will also be highlighted. So will areas primed to get more development out of the airports serving them, such as Stansted, Heathrow to the 'heavily constrained' west with Terminal Five in the offing, City airport to the east, and Gatwick to the south.

'We're not just looking at rail, ' said Gavron. 'In the short term the bus is by far the quickest way of getting London working, and outside London we're looking at intermediate modes of buses - trams and guided buses.'

The moves are what Gavron brands 'smart growth' - the GLA's attempt to link, in a sustainable way, London's economic development with its projected population growth - set to rise from 7.4 million now to 8.1 million by 2016.

London's town centres targeted for concentrations of development include Wood Green, Harrow, Ealing, Kingston, Croydon, Sutton, Romford and Ilford, while its housing 'crisis', as Gavron calls it, will be addressed in a separate housing statement by September.

Senior policy advisor to the mayor Neale Coleman told the AJ this will look at how to increase the supply of housing to London - at the moment this is at the level of around 17,000-18,000 homes per year and the GLA wants to see this raised to about 25,000. Coleman says there will be a difficult balancing act to strike in coming up with plans flexible enough to respond to different housing conditions. There will also be greater encouragement for homes in the private rented sector, and Gavron is also keen to see a greater level of affordable housing, with different kinds of tenures encouraged. 'When kids reach a certain age they leave because they can't buy here', she said.

'That's not sustainable, not tenable.'

Elsewhere in the SDS there will be sections setting out the framework for the mayor's responsibility in terms of strategic planning, more ideas on energy, and it will recommend a 'comprehensive masterplanning approach' with collaborative three-dimensional techniques.

'When we get an application it will grow out of an area approach, ' said Gavron.

Lofty ideals for the SDS, then (or London plan, as Livingstone calls it), and London's public, developers and architects will be hoping it lives up to its billing. 'We've been building on the London Planning Advisory Committee's work but LPAC had rubber teeth, ' added Gavron. 'Now we can do it for real.'

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