Making London’s suburbs feel better
As chairman of the Outer London Commission, Will McKee plans to give London’s doughnut a boost in confidence
Gok Wan and Will McKee are unlikely soulmates. One is the popular presenter of Channel 4 TV show How to Look Good Naked; the other is the new chairman of the Outer London Commission. But they share the compelling vision that one needn’t undergo the surgeon’s knife when a little self-confidence can be equally beautifying.
London Mayor Boris Johnson created the Outer London Commission last November, to shift the ‘focus of the previous Mayoralty towards inner London’, to the suburbs that had been ‘overlooked, if not ignored’. McKee’s role is to advise the Mayor on the London Plan and to identify up to five areas to become outer London hubs – town centres earmarked for development and growth.
‘What’s the vision?’ asks McKee. ‘We are talking about employment. We are talking about culture. We are talking about leisure.’
McKee was an obvious choice to lead the commission. The chairman of developer Tilfen Land and Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, McKee has worked as a planner in various London boroughs, from Hammersmith and Fulham to Lambeth, Sutton and Croydon. He has spent the last 66 years living in and around the capital. He’s a kind of super-Londoner: half jellied eel-chomping, working-class geezer, half privileged member of the city’s cultural and economic aristocracy.
In his new role, McKee is charged with removing the collective status of the London suburbs as lackeys of the domineering centre, empowering them to achieve their potential.
McKee is ‘a great believer in hub-and-cluster theory’. He says that making town centres desirable will persuade people to spend their evenings there, adding: ‘If you take a sustainable transport agenda seriously, then people in the outskirts of London should have good opportunities to work where they are.’
He has only just begun to pull together the team that will eventually make the recommendations to the Mayor, which includes architect Terry Farrell. But it is already clear that, taken to its logical conclusion, London’s suburbs would fundamentally alter the economic, cultural and social character of the whole capital.