Activisim, Equity and the Trolls.
An equitable London would be a city characterised by fairness; one in which planning decisions can be seen to be just and right; the outcomes are reasonable and the processes transparent. And one definition of planning is that it's a democratic means of legitimising the disadvantage suffered by a few in the interests of the many.
The invasion of our workplace by a banner waving group of activists interrupted an internal presentation with the message that they would continue to occupy our studio until the team of architects, landscape architects, designers and others who are involved agreed to withdraw from the project where we are part of a design team supporting the redevelopment of the sixties built housing there. I responded that there was no way we could agree to give up on a project that will bring about so much positive change.
The group would not respond to my requests that they should leave having made their point and so of course the meeting had to be abandoned. Once the presenters and the audience had responded to my apologetic request to vacate the space, I was surrounded by an intimidating group, shouting accusations, abuse and taking photographs that were later posted on digital media, embellished with unflattering captions.
The Aylesbury regeneration project has in fact been going on for years, with a huge investment of time and money in feasibility studies, consultation, planning, masterplanning, urban and landscape design, architecture, procurement of development partners, approval of grant funding leading finally to almost unanimous detailed planning approval for a first development phase of 830 homes and outline planning for the entire masterplan of 2,800 homes only a month before we were invaded.
So it is at the very least implausible, but in any event undemocratic, to suggest so late in the day that an assault on the office of the design team, posted on digital media, might begin to unravel a process that has only got thus far because it is carried forward on a tide of middle ground support that has had years of opportunity to scrutinise and understand the pros and cons of the regeneration project. And it’s not ok to invade people’s offices, not ok to harass and insult people face to face or on social media. That's called trolling.
Much as I can understand the frustration of this group of activists I can't accept that their approach is either equitable or civilised. London is a seedbed of invention and the ready availability of a diverse and affordable housing stock is not only necessary for reasons of fairness. If we are to retain our position as a world city we must sustain the opportunity for those we have attracted over the years to coexist, interact, exchange ideas and contribute to the constant renewal of our economy and culture. We won't stop London haemorrhaging its low paid, its young and its inventive, creative talent by standing in the way of development that adds to the stock of quality and affordable housing.
And anyone who doubts my commitment to these principles should read my London Society paper, 'Building Greater London - an end to the capital's crisis of affordability'.
Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP
Chair, The Housing Forum.