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Boris's London Plan: 'Ideologically incoherent, but in some ways very pragmatic'

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.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Does he really have a London plan?
    . he 's against social housing, move obviously warmly welcomed bu developpers that can see higher profits. Haven't we got enough reports that states there is a drastic need of accomodation in London for the lower key workers?
    . he erases the public places plan. Have a look at south London's great potential for new regenerated urban life.
    . he's to protect bankers and their bonuses. Didn't we just say a few weeks ago that this dangerous era of easy making millions was over? Good old 2000's...
    . He's against high rise buildings.. well, no. not totally, or not where he doesn't want them.
    K.Long seems to think Boris is practical.
    What's the plan again?

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  • Daniel Hewitt

    Not having followed Mr Johnson's polices closely, I may be out of step; but there's nothing in this report that makes it plain that the Mayor is ideologically incoherent. In fact, it suggests quite the opposite: namely, that he favours the interests of developers and public revenue streams over the interests of would-be social housing occupants and environmental concerns. (Note, it should not be for the local authority to determine whether a scheme will be commercially viable; but it may decide that existing stock would be under-utilised or otherwise prejudiced if the new scheme were to succeed, and therefore refuse consent on those grounds.) If Boris were to be more staunchly socialist or environmentalist, then it may be more plausible to accuse him of incoherence.

    Suggesting that he might be 'pragmatic', on the other hand, is not much of an accolade unless it is established that any lack (or compromise) of principle is not despicable. It's not clear that the article establishes such a the case.

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  • Kieran - you missed the most significant thing Boris has done to stifle London's growth - he has widened almost all the strategic viewing corridors for no good reason other than he is being advised by a group of ex-westminster anti-developmentalists who scurry around Boris, bent on the minimalisation of developmemt. Boris's strategic view corridor widened has already killed off four large city schemes, it has wiped multi-millions off prospective land values - and all for what ? History will record this being the greatest disservice Boris has done for London - why is no one talking about it ? - its has already directly caused the redundancy of 4 architects I know....

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  • Boris Johnson has given away all of his powers on major planning decisions, to one of his unelected advisors, Ian Clement. Disgraceful.

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  • Sir Simon Milton, Boris's planning adviser says:

    Boris' legacy will be the creation of a distinctive architecture for London. A kind of architectural vernacular, especially for housing, that is definitely London

    no no no noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

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  • bring back ken

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