The Central London Partnership believes the future of central London lies in the hands of the business community, and its programme of environmental improvement initiatives aims almost entirely at business. 'Business Cycle', for example, was promoted to directors of major corporations, 24 of which promised to encourage their employees to cycle to work in order 'to demonstrate a critical mass'. As director Pat Brown wryly puts it: 'People unfortunately have a tendency to listen to business.'
She cites the examples of the Times Square and Bryant Park improvement programmes in New York as tremendous successes made possible by hefty private investment. But both have been heavily criticised for promoting a policy of social exclusion and privatisation of the city. Brown suggests that the way forward in London will also be through business-led local improvement partnerships, funded through a levy over and above the business rate. In return, those businesses decide what improvements are required in an area and which should be prioritised for implementation. But in an area like central London, where businesses are so extensively owned by non-local, multinational companies, one wonders how far their priorities can ever match those of local resident communities.
Pat Brown stresses the partnership's awareness of poverty in the central London resident population, and the need to provide jobs for locals; she also endorses the new spatial development strategy which will come into force under the new mayor of London, replacing the old planning framework, and which is intended to provide a system by which certain activities in certain areas can be supported independently of market forces - for example, through low rents for artists and artisans. On the other hand, she clearly has little faith in the public sector, commenting that it's 'no use' leaving London Transport and London Underground, for example, to sort out the common sense problems of running the bus systems - because they're just not up to it. By the same token, she is cynical about the government-backed so-called Urban Renaissance, because 'ministers won't put a date on publication' of the White Paper. Westminster Council also comes in for extensive criticism, as 'the biggest resident's association in the world', which has failed to support environmental projects deemed for the greater good.
The partnership was brought into being to try to co-ordinate the efforts of the eight local authorities which control chunks of central London, and provide a voice for that area. Its policies span from 'visionary' schemes at one end of the spectrum - notably the World Squares Initiative - to the detail of everyday life, including co-ordinated roadworks and deliveries, and taxi emissions. But its greatest efforts are invested in encouraging walking as the primary mode of transport, which it regards as the key to central London's environmental problems.
Patricia Brown of the Central London Partnership was addressing the Urban Design Group at The Gallery in London's Smithfield.