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Planning for tomorrow

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The new strategic document for London's future might become a model for other UK towns and cities

London mayor Ken Livingstone's consultation draft of the long-awaited Spatial Development Strategy - the London Plan - is intended to be the first of a new breed of document, a model for other conurbations. It is shaped by the GLA Act of 1999, which gave the Greater London Authority three principal purposes:

to promote the economic, social and environmental improvement of Greater London.

The document acknowledges London's huge problems - a growing population, decades of under-investment and acute housing shortages.

But it sees spectacular opportunities - a buoyant, globally traded service sector, heritage, tourism, with distinctive diversity and character. It recognises the need for long-term investment, which will result in higher density, mixed-use development served by good public transport.

Whether it can achieve it - an urban renaissance built around public transport - only time will tell.

Although the plan does not see tall buildings as necessary for achieving high density, it does say that their visibility means they are likely to have a bigger impact than other building types, and therefore need to be of exemplary design. More broadly, it is the first plan to adopt the agenda of the Urban Task Force and the Urban White Paper. It also adopts the RICS-promoted notion of Transport Development Areas (AJ 27.6.02).

The underlying message is clear: the influx of population (which it politically correctly describes as 'inmigrants') is to be encouraged.

Newly published figures from the Government Actuary show net inward migration, which is concentrated in London and the South East, at 158,000 last year, and it projects annual growth of a similar order up until 2025. Successfully accommodating this trend will maintain London's competitive position as a 'world city' and the economic benefits will accrue to all Londoners, as well as the national economy.

Initial reactions range from the London Housing Federation's welcoming of the plan's affordable housing policy to the Association of London Government criticising it for neglecting the suburbs. The RIBA queries the compatibility of the plan with the government's Green Paper reforms of the planning system. Others, including London First, raise doubts about the ability to deliver what is promised.

The 15-year vision outlined in the plan underlines the fact that its achievement will not be in the gift of one mayor. Indeed, it has to be remembered that the idea of a mayor is to promote and lobby for the interests of all citizens and he/she does not have the powers needed for the implementation of his/her vision.

The fact that the plan is intended to supplant the 'Parts One' of the boroughs' development plans could be an area for conflict. While the City of London will welcome the expansionist thrust, the City of Westminster is racing to get its reviewed UDP adopted ahead of the plan, since it seeks to resist features such as the intensification of the central area (including the 24-hour society) and the encouragement of tall buildings.

Note: I was taken to task for my discussion of 'densification' policies (AJ 27.6.02) by Robert Williams (AJ 11.7.02), and some planners feel that Urban Task Force and similar emerging policies are misguided since they emanate from 'non-planners'. It is certain that they cannot be implemented successfully by one mayor or by planners alone, but need the skills and commitment of good architects and their enlightened public and private clients. So, I guess, it is over to us then.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership The London Plan:

Key aspects On planning, urban design and regeneration:

more intense use of available land, to promote mixed-use development;

Intensified development in central and opportunity areas;

major development to the east, enhancement and diversification of suburban, district and local centres;

improved access, services and sustainability in suburban areas;

strategies to ensure that areas of regeneration benefit from growth;

and

the integration of spatial policies with those affecting health, renewal, safety, employment and housing and improvements to the public realm.

On architecture and design:

mixed-use development to optimise the use of land and reduce the need to travel long distances;

high standards of urban design to achieve the best use of space;

increasing the supply of housing by encouraging higher density development where there is good access to public transport, using new building technologies to promote sustainable construction, energy efficiency and less waste.

integrating the development with transport to limit parking and designing for pedestrians rather than traffic; and lsensitive infill development and design initiatives relating to policing, safety and crime reduction.

On open spaces:

a robust approach to their protection;

equal access to open space regardless of where people live - to work with boroughs in protecting and promoting a network of open spaces; and lfiercely protective of the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land and for the boroughs to consult with the mayor before reviewing Green Belt boundaries.

Download the draft London Plan at www. london. gov. uk

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