The reasoning behind Boris Johnson’s development decisions is a guessing game, says Kieran Long
We were beginning to think that Boris Johnson was trying so hard to stay out of trouble as Mayor of London that he would accomplish nothing during his tenure. However, the last couple of weeks have seen two significant events that affect the built environment, though we may be no closer to understanding where the mayor stands on development and architecture.
The first event was his decision last week to overrule Tower Hamlets Council and give planning permission to the 67-storey Columbus Tower in Canary Wharf, designed by Mark Weintraub for developer Commercial Estates Group. This seems a strange one. Quite how a tower with a substantial element of commercial office space seems viable near Canary Wharf right now is unclear to many. There is no lack of space there (after 8,000 credit-crunch-related redundancies at East London’s financial services hub) after all.
The power for the mayor to overrule a local authority and grant approval for the scheme was won by previous incumbent Ken Livingstone, but never used by him. Boris has now exercised that right to OK a building and safeguard a £4 million contribution from the Developer to Crossrail.
Just a week later, a draft London Plan – the mayor’s spatial development strategy for the capital – was published. A couple of things stand out, a renewed commitment to building a new bridge over the Thames at Woolwich, for one.
Most controversial is the proposal to drop Livingstone’s requirement for 50 per cent social housing in residential developments. Developers will no longer be required to include a set proportion of social housing, this being replaced by borough-wide targets.
A major positive is that the London Plan includes space standards for social housing; it also states that large residential developments should have a ‘distinctive character, sense of local pride and civic identity’. It may not seem much, but these are rounds of ammunition in the fight for high-quality housing.
Are we any clearer about Johnson? No. An insider at City Hall told me he tends to make decisions on housing and development without always understanding the full implications.
In this spirit he has produced an ideologically incoherent, but in some ways very pragmatic, London Plan.