For the past 20 years, Patricia Brown has acted behind the scenes to shape major developments across London. Now she’s going public to say we need a new approach to regeneration in the capital that improves everyone’s lives. Christine Murray reports
We’re in the Bridge Theatre, designed by Haworth Tompkins, a stone’s throw from City Hall in the heart of Berkeley Homes’ One Tower Bridge development, and it seems that everyone in the room knows Patricia Brown.
Roger Madelin, head of Canada Water for British Land and former Argent chief, has just spotted her. ‘We’re having breakfast in a couple of weeks, right?’ Moments later, London Theatre Company co-director Nick Starr, former National Theatre producer, pops over to say hello.
‘I helped them out,’ says Brown of the Bridge Theatre. ‘This was the Section 106 for the project, and it almost didn’t happen. It had to be a cultural space, but they didn’t have a tenant. I introduced the developer to the theatre company and …’
London’s quality of life has to be more than public realm and a flat white
It’s a familiar story from Brown, who has been joining the dots in development for the past 20 years, first as chief executive of Central London Partnership, then as director of her own consultancy, Central.
I accuse her of being London’s invisible hand: ‘I suppose I am,’ she laughs. ‘A lot of what I do is make connections, because I know someone who would benefit from meeting somebody else. They might do the ribbon-cutting, but it’s often me whispering behind the scenes.’
If Brown’s role as strategic matchmaker sounds modest, the results are not. It was Brown who led the lobby to pedestrianise Trafalgar Square. Brown, again, who introduced Central St Martins to King’s Cross when the Granary Building was still a husk in a slum. It was also Brown who negotiated with the tree activists on the Heygate Estate, which led to the creation of the ‘urban forest’ at Elephant Park.
The bridge theatre, haworth tompkins
Source: Philip Vile
Brown was deputy chair of the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group under Boris Johnson, where she led on the Good Growth Agenda, now part of the London Plan. She revived the London Festival of Architecture as chair and appointed Tamsie Thomson as director. She is vice-chair of the British Property Federation’s Development Committee, sits on Great Western Railway’s Strategic Advisory Board and is a design adviser for HS2.
Now, after place-whispering for 20 years, Brown is going public with a vital message and a new concept: London 3.0.
‘London went through an urban renaissance but, while King’s Cross is a great success, the Land Securitisation of Victoria Street is not,’ says Brown. ‘We are often doing development and not regeneration. Lots of communities feel disenfranchised. They can’t see the benefits. There aren’t enough homes.’
The bottom line: Brown believes we need to crystallise the lessons learned from 20 years of regeneration – especially where developments failed to improve the lives of Londoners.
‘London’s quality of life has to be more than public realm and a flat white,’ says Brown. ‘We need to create a more equitable environment. We were focused too much on physical regeneration, and not social regeneration.’
London 3.0 would feel easier to walk around, be less polluted, and the transport system would work better
Enter London 3.0, Brown’s imaginary future for London.
‘It’s a vision for how we want to live, so that we can educate political figures about what life in the capital should be like,’ explains Brown.
If it seems a bit vague, Brown says that’s because it’s a ‘brown bag lunch’ – an open-ended concept that she wants as many people as possible to feed into until it becomes a buzzword for a future London we’re all heading towards, prioritising quality of life and liveability.
Granary square, king’s cross
Source: Jack Hobhouse
‘London 3.0 would feel easier to walk around, be less polluted and congested, and the transport system would work better than it currently does. We need different kinds of housing and a range of products that deliver more affordability in housing.
‘And it would be a technology-enabled city. More than putting a digital lamp-post on the street and calling it a smart city, it’s about what [technology] can do for people to make it a place.’ Brown’s hope is that London 3.0 will become ‘a conscious controlling hand’. She says: ‘It’s about gentle education, bringing together public and private sector interests and helping people see different points of view.’
A shared vision is crucial, Brown explains, because projects such as King’s Cross take 20 years to complete and politicians rarely stick around for more than four. In addition, public consultation is rarely meaningful.
‘Quite often local authorities are frightened. They clench up and fail to engage because they feel like people are against them,’ says Brown. ‘People are far more reasonable than they think. It’s important to listen and talk.’
Asked about the controversy surrounding affordability at Elephant & Castle, Brown suggests critics of Lendlease should be lobbying government instead.
South gdns 2 tim crocker
Source: Tim Crocker
‘I’m not saying Lendlease and Southwark have the perfect scheme. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of the financing. But there’s a question here about local authorities being pragmatic about development [to] get things done.
’We were in the grip of the recession and Southwark had failed to deliver any regeneration at Elephant & Castle, and otherwise we would still be looking at a hole at the Heygate Estate. Why are these homes not affordable? That’s a question we need to ask the government, rather than beating up developers for developing a product.’
‘We don’t have a government that builds homes,’ she adds.
To realise London 3.0, Brown says, the entire development industry needs to pull together. ‘We have to take a more proactive role in the kit of parts that makes London,’ she says. ‘We have to stop working in silos. We have to enable leaders and public and private interests to work together.’
Harnessing technology is key: ‘When you think about the complexity of London, about what local authorities need to get their heads around, I’d like a [technology-enabled city] to help them, too,’ says Brown.
‘London needs to work like a well-orchestrated symphony and you need a much more hands-on – but invisible – conductor for that.
‘I’m not the only person who thinks about these things, but I want to bring lots of pieces to the table and work out how they all fit together.’