Transport for London’s (TfL) strategic planning adviser, Stuart Robinson, talks about the transport authority’s huge development plans and collaborating with emerging practices
What are your main responsibilities at TfL?
The position requires me to help assess the planning risk on the development portfolio at TfL, to assist with the relationships we have with the stakeholders in the planning process and to provide some strategic direction to the major projects we undertake.
What is the property development team trying to achieve?
We’ve targets to start construction on 10 million sq ft of commercial and residential space with 10,000 homes by 2021, with half of those being affordable.
We want to improve the passenger experience for those using TfL’s services, for example by providing step-free access where possible, and create exciting new places and healthy streets.
We also want to generate long-term sustainable income to reinvest in transport – and do all of this while adhering to best practice in terms of sustainable growth.
How has TfL’s attitude to its land and how it can be developed changed over the past 10 years?
It has been pioneering a process whereby it has not only identified all the land it owns, but also identifies the land with development prospects (5,700 acres on 254 sites).
We’ve established a process whereby we can work with a group of 13 of the UK’s best developers to bring these sites forward to realise their full potential. Since August 2016 we have brought six property sites to market, which will deliver approximately 1,000 new homes, 50 per cent of which will be affordable. Over the next few years, that process will accelerate to a level of 3,000 homes or more.
Is TfL interested in new kinds of housing solutions to helping solve the crisis, such as modular homes and co-housing?
Given the level of the housing crisis, there is no way we can respond to the need without looking at innovative solutions and TfL is utilising government and mayoral funding which has been set aside for this purpose.
There is no way we can respond to the need without looking at innovative solutions
This ranges from off-site manufacture to different financial models for affordable housing.
How can architects help TfL achieve what it is setting out to deliver?
TfL’s property development team has just procured two panels of architects which reflect the top talent around the capital in terms of commercial, residential and mixed-use development.
Does TfL want to create a common design language for its above site developments – as it has for its Tube stations, for example?
In terms of our property development portfolio, there will not be a common approach. We aim to create great places as a central feature of our development schemes and this dictates that a sense of authenticity must prevail, requiring the architect to find the best solution to that particular site.
Will there be any opportunities for practices – particularly emerging talent – to get involved with TfL? Are there plans for more charrettes?
As mentioned, we have just completed the procurement process and as part of this, looked at the best emerging talent. In addition, we do encourage our architect teams to collaborate with smaller emerging practices where we think they have something special to offer.
In addition, following the success of the recent NLA charrette (where the results are currently on show as part of the Polycentric City exhibition), we would like to do more design exercises like this with the NLA’s New Gen group.
Would TfL be willing to hold open design competitions for any of its jobs?
We don’t currently have any plans to undertake any architectural competitions, as we have recently formed our architects’ panel by using a competitive process and the selection of our property partners (who will tend to use a top architectural practice to develop their own ideas) is also based on a competitive element.
There is also the role of the Mayor of London’s Good Growth by Design (GGbD) programme, through which 50 Mayoral Design Advocates (MDAs) have been selected. We are formulating a design protocol which will rely on a number of these MDAs to both inspire and moderate emerging solutions for all of our sites going forward. In addition, we are considering how the principles of GGbD can be embedded in our working lives.
Furthermore, we are conscious of the draft London Mayor’s Transport Strategy and its target of changing transport modal choice to rely more on public transport, cycling and walking. As most of our schemes are based around transport nodes, we are acutely conscious of our role in this, particularly the need to create healthy streets as part of our approach to placemaking.