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A capital strategy

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Released last month, London's spatial development strategy proposals herald a new era for planning in the UK

London's Spatial Development Strategy (SDS) sets out the mayor's vision for the future of the city. It runs alongside other city-wide strategic plans dealing with transport, waste management and culture, for example, but the London Plan, as the SDS is known, will be the over-arching structure tying together these layers of policy.

Although this proposals document is new, deriving from EU aspirations to harmonise such plans across national boundaries, it will dovetail into our planning system through the borough unitary development plans (UDPs) by requiring conformity with the 'Part 1' section of each UDP.

The initial proposals, now out for consultation, will be the subject of detailed scrutiny by the Greater London Assembly (GLA). Quite apart from the reactions of numerous interest groups in London, the GLA issued a release headed: 'Assembly expresses serious concerns over Mayor's London Plan.'

The statement read: 'Over the coming months, the committee will question the strategy's approach, looking at issues such as the mayor's apparent obsession with central London at the expense of the suburbs and whether prescriptive affordable housing quotas will actually lead to more homes being built.'

Friction should also be anticipated from the boroughs. Some of the mayor's views have already provoked a strong response: the hostility of Westminster to the mayor's congestion-charging proposals is reciprocated in the mayor's criticism of Westminster's proposed policy to clamp down on late-night entertainment activity in the central area.

There has been a better response from the City Corporation to the mayor's enthusiasm for tall buildings.

It is a strong pro-development plan. The mayor says he has only two strategic choices. The first is to attempt to rein back London's economic growth and projected increase in population by reintroducing policies of dispersal.

The second, preferred option is to accept the processes of economic growth, centralisation, and population increase and create adequate conditions for the city. 'This growth will help to pay for fundamental improvements in environmental management and use of resources, ' the document states. Its aim is to make the fundamental choice explicit and to identify the strategic land use and spatial issues that flow from it.

To these ends, the plan looks to ensure a steady supply of business and office space, managing the expansion of central London to defined locations to the east and south, based around public transport provision and promoting flexible use of land, including mixeduse development.

The plan looks at London in the global and European contexts, identifying its strengths and the pressures it is under.

It takes the highest of the official projections for population growth and concludes that, if recent trends continue, London's 7.4 million population could increase by 700,000 people and 500,000 households over 20 years.

The plan also considers how to increase the supply of housing - especially affordable housing - and how to improve quality in residential areas.

On transport, it sees the use of public transport as the framework for new development, reducing congestion and encouraging alternatives to the private car.

The plan says it will affect specific areas of London in different ways. In central London it intends to facilitate the development of capacity to increase its attractiveness to business, visitors and residents, with additional employment coming from the redevelopment of opportunity areas around the main rail termini, in tandem with increasing public transport capacity.

The SDS highlights the need for high-quality building designs, and for the public realm to be supported by active town-centre management and a presumption against out-of-centre retail and leisure developments.

Large and under-used brownfield sites will be considered as potential locations for new urban villages. The plan also aims to rejuvenate local neighbourhoods as sustainable and attractive places by identifying priority areas for neighbourhood initiatives and to rejuvenate the suburbs. A particular emphasis will be strategic development focused on east London and the Thames Gateway, with a realistic and market-sensitive framework for the development of Canary Wharf, the Greenwich Peninsula and the Newham arc of opportunity.

It will advocate high standards of design to improve landscape and environmental quality and will also seek to boost the Lea Valley, what is known as the Western Wedge (Paddington to Heathrow) and the Wandle Valley.

It does not take much imagination to appreciate the opportunities for architects that are likely to arise as these ideas stimulate other boroughs' UDPs. It is to be hoped that they will follow suit and take a more aggressively pro-development stance - quite the opposite view to the one many of them take today.

Architects with an interest in London should watch this space and be awake to new opportunities. Architects operating elsewhere will benefit from watching the process and considering how it might apply to their own patches.

The consultation period will run until 31 July. Documents can be obtained by calling 020 7983 4100 or logging onto the website at www.

london. gov. uk/mayor/strategies Brian Waters is principal of The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership. Tel 020 7828 6555, e-mail: brian@bwcp. co. uk

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