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Gavron unveils new look for London

As Ken Livingstone revealed the draft of his Spatial Development Strategy for London this week, deputy mayor Nicky Gavron talked to the AJ about its implications for architects.

While the document is cautious on the subject of tall buildings, Gavron expressed enthusiasm for clusters of tall buildings. It is most likely that these would be located close to key transport interchanges, which the document sees as the focus for high-density development. Although the GLA is keen to point out that high-density does not necessarily mean high-rise, the construction of tower blocks may be made easier by a possible rethinking of the St Paul's Heights regulations. Gavron suggested that the GLA may be recommending that the regulations should be changed to protect only specific strategic views of St Paul's.

'Standing on the other side of the Embankment, St Paul's becomes visible between the Wheel and the Festival Hall.

That's a view which is really worth preserving. Isn't that more important than the view of St Paul's from the top of Kenwood?'

The document states that new buildings should be 'sustainable' although it is not clear how such a strategy is to be enforced. Responding to the document RIBA president-elect Paul Hyett suggested that it could be possible to make an ecological statement an essential part of every planning application.

The document reiterates the GLA's commitment to Orbirail, a railway system which will run in a loop around inner London. Gavron sees the scheme as a key opportunity to encourage highquality architecture both through the refurbishment of existing stations, and through the design of new stations which will be needed to create a continuous loop around central London.

Although the selection procedure for architects has not been decided, Gavron told the AJ that she is interested in the idea of encouraging a new generation of talented architects, and said: 'I think competitions are very important as a way of opening up commissions to new talents.'

Other opportunities for architects may lie in the development of public spaces, notably Leicester Square: 'The Mayor is very keen to get to grips with Leicester Square, ' Gavron told the AJ. 'It certainly needs to be redesigned. It simply doesn't work.' The GLA is also looking at ways to design buses of the future, claiming that 'there isn't a single well-designed bus. We are looking at buses which work more like trams: guided buses, trams which run down the middle of the road, hailer buses. And that needs design talent.'

Despite the document's pledge to promote new sporting projects at locations of 'high public transport accessibility', Gavron voiced support for the proposed National Athletics Centre at Picketts Lock in the Lea Valley. The FaulknerBrown's designed stadium (AJ 22.3.01), which will host the 10th World Athletics Championships in 2005, is seen as an exception on the grounds that it will act as a catalyst for the development of the 243ha area of brownfield land. Its success is seen as particularly important since London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics will start immediately after the the championships.

The strategy document has met with approval from the profession. Hyett said 'Livingstone is trying to make the city a richer place in terms of the quality in life. As a mission statement it is to be applauded', while Lord Rogers told the AJ that he was 'happy' with the document, adding that many of the proposals are based on the recommendations of his own urban task force. He said ideas relating to public space could be put into practice straight away, and that, from looking at Barcelona, it should be possible to implement the entire strategy within 10 years.

A dissenting voice came from Robert Neill, leader of the Conservative group at the GLA, who was critical of the document's insistence that 50 per cent of new housing should be affordable, of which 15 per cent should be available to buy and 35 per cent should be rented. 'I think that is an area where the Mayor is stuck in the Dark Ages, most people would prefer to buy not rent, ' he said.

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