nla news

Midtown on the rise, key opportunities in the heart of the capital - 15/12/2014

Timothy Soar
Midtown is preparing for a step-change in its popularity that will arrive with Crossrail. But it is already becoming a richer and more varied place for tenants – measured by an influx of new creative occupiers and a new ‘beardwatch’ index.

Those were some of the key points raised in a special NLA conference on Midtown  sponsored by inmidtown and Crossrail – the ‘collection of villages with distinct characteristics’ between the City and West End that includes Bloomsbury, Holborn and St Giles.

The beardwatch feature – a measure of the type of young hipsters who have populated areas such as Shoreditch – is the brainchild of Julian Hind, partner, head of leasing, sales and development at Farebrother. ‘In Midtown we are fundamentally a refurbishment market’, he said, with low availability rates across areas such as WC2, EC1, EC4. But new tenants are moving into the Midtown area such as Skype, Webber Shandwick, Publicis and Saatchi and Saatchi, attracted by new retail, green space, restaurants and bars, world class education facilities, plus the improved public realm and greater accessibility that Crossrail will bring. ‘It is getting quite beardy’, said Hind.

Sir Terry Farrell said that the seven villages that make up Midtown form a ‘very definite area’, but, like many other parts of London, are facing pressure from a growing population. ‘In the last five years London’s population has grown by 500,000 – equivalent to an Edinburgh’, he said. ‘In the next 10 years it will grow by a million – a Birmingham.’ Crossrail will make a huge difference to Midtown and an enormous difference to London, Farrell added. But Midtown needed to dissolve its east-west barriers, define and promote quality routes to key places such as the British Museum, provide a clear and complete pedestrian network, and get rid of the area’s many one way systems.

One of these – Gower Street – will be made two-way for all vehicles, said Alex Williams, director of borough planning at Transport for London, with Tottenham Court Road two-way for buses and cyclists in a project that should be complete by 2018. ‘These projects will build on the success of the area’, said Williams, ‘but you cannot deliver this scale of change without disruption. There will be a bit of pain but I do think the final product is worth it.’ DSDHA partner Deborah Saunt added that her practice was looking at the consequence of the ‘surge’ in people and aiming to ease the ‘palpable fear’ people have of being ‘swamped’ and hoped to avoid creating ‘highly polished spaces that are all quite similar’.

Crossrail’s head of land and property Ian Lindsay said that Crossrail is the first rail project to design stations and over-site improvements as an integrated and complementary package, and indeed will be the catalyst for some £130m of urban realm improvements which will make a ‘very major contribution to Midtown. And with each train able to carry some 1500 passengers, there will be 24 trains an hour from December 2018, with the journey from Farringdon to Canary Wharf dropping to eight minutes and Tottenham Court Road to Heathrow in less than 30. In the City, meanwhile, assistant director (environmental enhancement) said one of its big efforts was in trying to get people from Crossrail to the cultural quarter, including the Barbican, and looking to get back to two-way working at the gyratory end of Holborn.

The conference also heard from James Rowbotham, development manager at Land Securities, who said occupiers from the legal, financial and corporate sectors were ‘drifting over from the City’, while the arrival of firms like Amazon and the ‘game-changer’ of Saatchi showed how traditional West End occupiers were now looking at Midtown, partly because of price but also because of its different offer. ‘It can’t take its eye off the ball or price itself out of the market’, he warned. Julian Robinson, head of estates at the London School of Economics said critical mass had informed Midtown becoming a good place, along with its place ‘close to the centre of things’, while Camden Councils’ Julian Shapiro said that development of the Royal Mail’s sorting office could really transform a dingy and unloved part of Oxford Street. Inmidtown’s chief executive Tass Mavrogordato showed the impact BIDs like hers have had on the area, to the extent of introducing cycle vaults for bike parking under Bloomsbury Square, carbon calculators to monitor air pollution, even working to provide volunteering on schemes such as bee keeping and producing eggs from locally kept chickens. One of the beneficiaries of this last project is Midtown proponent Mishcon de Reya…or Meg Hen the layer, as the firm’s partner Susan Freeman put it.

-       David Taylor, Editor, NLQ  


Londonʼs best new home extensions and interiors announced at NLA - 11/12/2014

Interior Design Winner - House Bloomsbury by Stiff + Trevillion - ©Kilian O'Sullivan
Interior Design Winner - House Bloomsbury by Stiff + Trevillion

Last night, this year’s Don’t Move, Improve! awards winners were announced at a ceremony at NLA, with the overall prizes awarded to Maccreanor Lavington for Ravenswood – a sympathetic timber-framed extension to an end-of-terrace house on a 1960’s estate in Gospel Oak – and to Stiff + Trevillion for the interior design project House Bloomsbury – a characterful mews house with a dated 90’s interior, refreshed through simple, elegant detailing and reworked layout.  

In all, 10 prizes were awarded across two categories, with Second Place presented for Cecilia Road by MW Architects and Rosa & John's Home by Zminkowska De Boise Architects. Third Place was awarded to RAW House by MUSTARD Architects and Islington Penthouse by HUT. Four schemes were also recognised with commendations: The Slate House by Gundry & Ducker received Best Use of Material; Paul Archer Design was presented with Best Use of Glass for Sebastian House; Wallace Road, designed by Appleton Weiner, was awarded Most Cost Effective; and East London House by Mikhail Riches was awarded Best Historic Intervention.  

Please click here further details.  

Supported by the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), Heal’s and RIBA London


Shaping growth across the South East - 25/11/2014

London needs a new version of the Abercrombie Plan to reap the advantages of the capital within a wider South East but ‘doesn’t stand a chance in hell’ of meeting its housing targets if it doesn’t look beyond its boundaries.

Those were two of the themes to emerge from a special conference co-hosted by NLA, Design South East and Urban Design London last week on shaping growth across the South East.

The man making the claims was Andrew Jones, managing director of design planning and economics at Aecom, who suggested that the London region needed to assess how it will be governed in the future, perhaps through a senate or commission to look after the region’s needs. ‘The boundaries for London aren’t right at the moment’, he said, adding that by 2036 we will probably be a million homes short of our housing needs so could need to reassess Green Belt land as well as instigate a bold New Town programme that designates new ones as well as reexamines existing. ‘I don’t think there’s a hope in hell of London meeting its housing targets within its boundary of London.’

Cllr David Hodge, Deputy Chairman, South East England Councils said that, with some 23.3 million people and rising in the South East, the question was not whether we need new housing but how we can deliver it. Development in the Green Belt should certainly not be ruled out completely, he added. But people also needed more than a roof. ‘What we really need are viable communities, not just identikit boxes which are being built all over the country at the moment’, he said. ‘We want central government to cut the puppeteer strings. Hold us to account. Give us greater control over our own finances.’

For its part, the government is clear that localism is about how the needs of local communities are met, not whether they are met, said Emma Fraser, deputy director - housing growth, Department for Communities and Local Government. The DCLG strongly supports joint plans and local authorities and public bodies have a duty to cooperate ‘constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis’. Government was also committed to addressing the barriers blocking housing sites, Fraser added, and is to publish a prospectus on New Towns next. Areas like Ebbsfleet can build on a history of cooperation in providing some 15,000 new homes via a UDC that will bring funding coordination and expertise. Chairman designate of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation Michael Cassidy said his organization is engaged in ‘scene setting’, with at least 20 strands of work aimed at getting the most out of the area’s ‘remarkable opportunity.’

Mike Edwards, UCL Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Planning, provided the background on the UK’s ‘sorry history of attempts at regional planning’, with structures being invested, tried and dropped. ‘We have an enormous momentum going in the growth of London and the south east region, and everyone except me thinks that’s perfectly okay.’ Edwards said that this was based on a very inadequate concept of growth that was illusory since it was based on price increases of housing and carried diseconomies of size as they affect things like congestion in transport and other utilities or air quality.

Alexander Jan, Director, Arup detailed some of the London Infrastructure Plan’s stated requirements for the capital by 2050, including 1.5 million more homes – double the rate of building at the moment – a 20% increase in energy supply capacity and 600 more schools and colleges. One of the plan’s key drivers - population growth for sub-national regions was almost at 30 per cent by 2037, with London adding some 2,000 people every eight days. But it was a mistake to think of London and the South East as rivals he said – they are symbiotic, both sides of the same equation.

The conference also heard from Stewart Murray, Assistant Director for Planning, GLA, who posed the question of what sustainable growth might be for London, given the ‘unprecedented’ population rises to a city of 10 million in the 2030s, towards a review of the London Plan that will be published in 2019/20. There were also views from across the wider South East region presented by speakers including Graham Hughes, Executive Director for Economy, Transport and Environment, Cambridgeshire County Council; Jane Custance, Head of Regeneration and Development, Watford Borough Council; and Bev Hindle, Deputy Director Strategy and Infrastructure Planning, Oxfordshire County Council. The situation with London and the South East was a bit like going to the school disco, said Barbara Cooper, Director of Environment, Kent County Council. ‘We see somebody we like in the middle. We are all talking to our friends about should we or shouldn’t we, but I think we are yet to make our first embrace. I know that is difficult with Boris but I think that is the stage we are at.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly


Social City - 19/11/2014

Chris Mansfield
London needs to pay as much attention to its ‘emotional economy’ as it does to its bricks and mortar.

So said Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founding Director, Kids Company at a special NLA breakfast session yesterday, organized to assess what the construction industry can do to allow people to enjoy better lives in the capital and beyond.

Batmanghelidjh set up an organization 18 years ago to take care of children under 11 who were feeling ‘bereft’ at schools being closed, before being deluged with some 400 of the capital’s most disturbed and dispossessed children who the normal agencies had no capacity to help. Fast-forward to today and the statistics have not changed, said Batmanghelidjh, and repeated government initiatives are failing to reach these disenfranchised people, under what Batmanghelidjh called a ‘flawed system’. Because the majority of kids self-refer, Kids Company has no local authority funding, and, added Batmanghelidjh, some two million children are being maltreated in this country today. Following research by UCL, Kids Company found that as many as 1 in 5 of the children under its wing had been shot at or stabbed, a third were sleeping on floors, and 55% of kids didn’t even have a table in their houses. So the charity aims to make physical changes to their homes, and urges the built environment community to give help in this activity, as well as forwarding wealthy people Batmanghelidjh’s way to help its core funding. But when it came to managing these children with disturbed behaviours, nurturing and caring can alter gene expression where punishment can’t, said Batmanghelidjh, principally because of alterations to their frontal lobes caused by their backgrounds. The model you want, said Batmanghelidjh, is a care architecture that reduces the reasons why a child is frightened. ‘As you structure environments, it’s a really good idea to think about the emotional economy within them’, she said. ‘If you want stability in that environment you need to think about how you create a substitute frontal lobe’.

Christine Townley, Executive Director of the Construction Youth Trust also works with young people, specifically to give them opportunities to get involved in careers in construction. This includes a ‘Budding Brunels’ programme, working with Network Rail and Crossrail, taking young people on site, an awards regime, and through its Southwark training centre to link into the Elephant and Castle project.

Social Life, meanwhile, said its founding director Nicola Bacon, works with councils, housing associations and developers to create places. ‘We’re called Social Life because social relationships are what make places tick’, she said. Projects include working with residents at the Aylesbury Estate and at the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, which, far from Ian Sinclair’s description of it as ‘an extermination facility for asylum seekers’ is a home to small businesses and the Latin American community. ‘We’re in danger of ignoring this sort of strength and asset in our city that really does create our social city. If we lose these places we lose a massive amount’, she said.

Finally, Alicia Pivaro, trustee at Architecture sans Frontières, said it was important to help create different models of change, support communities, fight the mindset of short termism and profit and believe that we can do better. ‘To quote Bob the Builder’, she said, ‘the answer is, “yes we can!”’

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ  


Estate Regeneration: How local authorities are responding - 12/11/2014

Thames View East  Tim Crocker
Housing experts from the public and private sectors gathered this week for an extended breakfast talk at NLA, sponsored by Tibbalds, to examine new strategies for forging exemplary estate regeneration schemes.

Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration at Ealing Pat Hayes began by detailing how his local authority had taken more of a developer role in ‘genuinely addressing housing needs across the borough’, often through refurbishing council housing to a high standard and letting it to a mix of tenures. It aims to generate a sense of place, he said, without necessarily knocking estates down in their entirety. Ealing is also setting up its own company to build more private rented product alongside estate regeneration schemes. ‘Councils can lead regeneration’, said Hayes. ‘Forget about the old model and think about the new of borrowing against a general fund and councils doing much more of a varied product than just social housing. We can do estate regeneration in a different way.’ Richard Lavington, Founding Director, Maccreanor Lavington showed a little of how that attitude is playing out on the ground, with the practice’s Acton Gardens scheme an attempt to create as many family units as possible in a wide mix of tenures, with a double-sided street and a terrace of houses backing onto a school.

Westminster City Council’s Head of Major Projects Tristan Samuels said his authority had a slightly different approach given its unique situation and the second highest house price to income ratio in the country at 18:1. Westminster is looking to deliver 800 new homes and 280 jobs in its latest phase, engaging with residents early on HTA-designed schemes like Tollgate Gardens and Ebury Bridge.

Paul Davis + Partners’ Design Partner Pedro Roos had another example to show – One Church Square - some 31 intermediate rented apartments and eight market rented apartments a short walk from Pimlico Station which concentrates on contextual materials including red brick, a sense of community, and sustainability ideas including PV cells and green roofs.

For Jed Young, Regeneration Team Leader, LB Camden, one of the big challenges was working with public budgets in a private market, and he questioned where the European contractors were in all of this. ‘Why aren’t Europeans coming here and helping us do some decent building?’ he asked.

Hilary Satchwell, Director, Tibbalds turned to the Bourne Estate in Holborn, Camden as an interesting example of how teams can work collaboratively and create a successful team even in the light of the ‘reserved acceptance’ of its residents. The project delivers 75 new homes in a sensitive part of central London, working with listed buildings and conservation areas and residents who wanted the new buildings to be part of the estate. ‘The key learning was about making sure the political dimension could be a positive thing here’, said Satchwell. 

Barking & Dagenham Divisional Director of Regeneration Jeremy Grint said his own area was now concerned with creating more mixed communities and has set up special purpose vehicles to improve housing delivery. The authority has delivered 800 units over the last four years and has 400 more in the pipeline by March 2016. The key factor, said Grint, is in ensuring that finance, housing and regeneration departments work closely and collaboratively together with their cabinet members.

Andrew Beharrell, Executive Director, Pollard Thomas Edwards said that practices such as PTE had been set up as a reaction to the disillusionment at housing problems of the past – socially monocultural, isolated estates that fostered high levels of deprivation – with a ‘grand aim to eliminate the divisive stigma associated with council housing’. The practice’s project at Thames View East benefited from an innovative arrangement of private investment to build new council homes. It incorporates a system of streets and courtyards including 150 family houses, and concentrates on simple materials, uniformity, and the creation of ‘aspirational council housing.’

Jestico + Whiles Associate Director Eoin Keating, showed how Grahame Park near Collingdale Station in the borough breaks down a masterplan into smaller phases and chunks, learning lessons from schemes in Barking and Dagenham. It will provide around 430 homes in the first phases, with a total of 3,000 new homes and community facilities over the next 15 years. And finally, Barnet Director for Place Stephen McDonald said that the council’s land holdings are the key to driving development and that the authority is developing some 16,000 homes for rent, shared ownership or private sale over the next 20 years. One of the key challenges beyond things like NIMBYism, he said, was having expertise and capacity in house – something Barnet solved by forming a joint venture with Capita a year ago. ‘It’s meant that a place like Barnet has been able to take on the ambition of having 1600 homes’ he said. 

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly   


Don't Move, Improve! 2014 - Shortlist announced! - 11/11/2014

©Agnese Sanvito
Judging has now taken place for Don’t Move, Improve! 2014 competition. The NLA competition, now in its fifth year, and in association with the British institute of Interior Design (BIID), Heal's, and RIBA London, strives to find London’s best new home extensions and interior design projects that deliver more space to live.  

We are pleased to announce that the following projects have been shortlisted:

Home Extension
BLOCK House by MUSTARD Architects
Canonbury House Extension by Trombe
Cecilia Road by MW Architects
Chetwynd Road by Cousins & Cousins Ltd
Clonbrock Road by Lipton Plant Architects
Cotesbach Road by Scenario Architecture
Court House by Coffey Architects
East London House by Mikhail Riches
Flo-Ro by Chance de Silva
Garden Room House by Paul McAneary Architects Ltd
Garden Yoga Studio by MW Architects
Greenwood Road by Kilburn Nightingale Architects
Grove Hill Road by MTA (Michael Trentham Architects)
Hodford Road by MW Architects
House in Hampstead by Cullinan Studio
JJ House by Space Group Architects
London Fields Extension by HUT
Malbrook House by Tigg+Coll Architects
Mount Park House by Paul Archer Design
Ockenden Road by NISSEN RICHARDS studio
Old Ford Road by Gort Scott
Ravenswood by Maccreanor Lavington
RAW House by MUSTARD Architects
Sebastian House by Paul Archer Design
Solent House by Paul Archer Design
Studio 3 by Friend and Company Architects
Summer House by Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects
The Brick House by Alma-nac Collaborative Architecture
The Slate House by Gundry & Ducker Architecture ltd
Wallace Road by Appleton Weiner
Well House by Coffey Architects
Winkley Workshop by Kirkwood McCarthy
ZB House by Delvendahl Martin Architects  

Home Interior Design
Alaska Apartment by IPT Architects
Butterfly Loft Apartment by Tigg+Coll Architects
Canyon House by Coffey Architects
Hillcrest by De Rosee Sa
House Bloomsbury by Stiff + Trevillion
Island Home by Coffey Architects
Islington Penthouse by HUT
New Concordia Wharf by Inside Out Architecture
Rosa & John's home by Zminkowska De Boise Architects
The Rectory by Emrys Architects
Victoria Mews by Bradley Van Der Straeten Architects

Winning projects will be announced at 6.30pm, Wednesday 10 December. All shortlisted projects will be shown in an exhibition at NLA from 11 December 2013 until 12 February 2015.

Shortlisted projects were judged by an eminent jury, chaired by Debbie Whitfield, Director of NLA:
> Carmel Allen, Creative Director, Heal’s
> Chris Hampson, Chair of RIBA London and co-founder Hampson Williams Architecture
> Dan Hopwood, President, BIID
> Luke Tozer, Director, Pitman Tozer
> Phillipa Stockley, journalist, editor and critic specialising in architecture and design

Prizes will be awarded to first, second and third places within each category where appropriate.

 Special prizes may also be awarded across the categories.


Nine Elms on the South Bank - 10/11/2014

 Agnese Sanvito  Agnese Sanvito  Millar Hare
Effective teamwork and collaboration between local authorities of different political persuasions was the crucial ingredient to set off the transformation of Nine Elms on the South Bank.

That was one of the key sentiments to emerge from a special ‘On Location’ event held by NLA at The Oval Cricket Ground last week.

Cllr Ravi Govindia, Leader, Wandsworth Council, said that what had been impressive was the speed of the transformation of the area, with the debate having gone from ‘when will it happen, to what will it be like’. ‘Two planning authorities working side by side may be unusual, but not here’, said Govindia. ‘I’m hugely enthusiastic about what this area is about to become’. Having ambitions is not the same as delivery, Govindia added, and schemes like Riverlight, now open to its first residents, will be followed by significant neighbourhoods and town centres being created at places like Battersea Power Station, with the whole area linked by a new linear park and catalyzed by the Northern Line Extension. ‘We are leading the way in finding new ways of transforming areas and this is clearly a part of it. People will make it a place to live, work and play’.

Cllr Lib Peck, Leader, Lambeth Council emphasized the importance of placemaking in the vision, and the partnership approach – even with such an unusual alliance’ that has been at the heart of the process. Peck said the authority is committed to 40% affordable housing – despite how difficult this is sometimes with viability tests – and mixed communities, with a ‘huge emphasis’ on job creation, and a goal to transform the Vauxhall gyratory into a place where people want to linger and not just rush through. ‘I’m absolutely convinced that partnership and an emphasis on placemaking is the way to go’, she said.

Helen Fisher, Programme Director, Nine Elms on the Southbank said that one of the exceptional things about Wandsworth and Lambeth was the way that they had worked in planning – ‘absolutely exceptional partnership working’, she branded it. Fisher outlined the unprecedented scale of change happening on the 195ha site, with an investment value of some £15bn and involving 27 schemes with planning permission, three new tube stations, 25,000 new jobs and an estimated growth for London’s economy of £7bn. The vast majority of development will be complete by 2025, while the housing target for the area has risen from 16,000 to 20,000. ‘This is not just about development. This is about creating a new district for London’, she said. Christopher Hall, Director, GVA, said that opportunity area is diverse today but will continue to be a ‘strong and diverse economic location’ in the future, with landmark developments having helped raise the visibility of the area in the public mind, including the US Embassy. ‘This is a central London location in terms of proximity, in terms of travel times’, he said. Richard Garside, Development Director, GL Hearn, detailed some of the other projects in the area, including the 541 units at Embassy Gardens, 698 at Riverlight, and 180 at Vauxhall Sky Gardens, revealing that the sales rate that the area is currently eliciting is some 1000 units per annum. ‘The iconic status of the area has now been established worldwide’, he said. Garside added that careful consideration of delivery strategies on affordable housing may enhance delivery over the wider borough areas – perhaps building more such units in lower value areas. For Sandra Roebuck, Assistant Director for Neighbourhoods and Investment, Lambeth Council, a major focus will be Vauxhall, which will continue to be a place of public transport, post-transformation. But the area is going from ‘flatline to skyline’ in a short space of time, with a number of towers set to be created that will emphasize the need to focus on public realm and the improvement of connections to the river.
Certainly when it comes to tall buildings, plans have been in evidence for some years, aided by flexible frameworks, said Colin Wilson, Strategic Planning Manager, GLA, but London is still primarily a low-rise city. ‘Don’t panic!’ he said, channeling Lance Corporal Jack Jones in TV’s Dad’s Army. ‘We’re not heading for Dubai-on-Thames’. The GLA commissioned a 3D model in order to be open and transparent with local community groups and let them know that ‘scale was coming forward here’, within a broad framework that encourages them to ‘look at things in the round, not just as a painting’. Tall buildings can add to a city’s sense of excitement and energy, however, Wilson added. ‘Part of London’s intrinsic enjoyment, for me, is that it is not a poodle on a leash.’

Discussion of this element included John Bushell, Principal, KPF, who suggested that the linear park could be a clever way of bringing order and that KPF’s work aimed to set circumstances for variation; Gareth Edwards, of SOM, who said it was important to design the skyline from many angles and that spreading out some of the residential towers could improve access to views and light; and Jason Syrett, Director, Allies & Morrison who said that tall buildings – such as the A&M scheme at Keybridge House, could also help orientate the public.

The conference also heard from Pam Alexander, Chair, Covent Garden Market Authority, projecting forward to conjecture how the US Embassy and Battersea Power Station projects acted as catalysts, reinforced by the new market and its 200 new businesses, and how an area of different places had emerged. ‘It is a new part of the world’, said Alexander, not just a new part of London’.  Chris Law, Public Realm and Development Director, Vauxhall One said it was important for the business improvement district to retain the character of the area, or enhance its sense of place, as it hopes to do through the Missing Link urban design competition won by Erect Architecture with J&L Gibbons. Mark Davy, Founder, Futurecity added that the area was one of a new trend in London of creative districts. ‘They’re beginning to understand that placemaking is not delivered by someone else’, he said, ‘It’s being delivered by all of us’. Anchor arts partners like the RCA will only be attracted because they believe it is a credible cultural place, he added. ‘The arts need to be seen as part of the process, not as a sculpture in a square’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Architecture


What Shape Is Your City? - 5/11/2014

London had the chance to learn from New York, Freiburg and Paris last night as key representatives from each city debated the opportunities and challenges facing their respective home turfs at a special evening debate held at the NLA together with Centre for London.

Carl Weisbrod, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chairman at the New York City Planning Commission began by saying that his city was highly resilient and entrepreneurial, having been founded on business principles. And today New York is in the ‘very peak of health’, said Weisbrod, adding some 95,000 new jobs in the last year, in a ‘vibrant and diverse economy’ that is also a global centre for culture. However, the economy is facing serious challenges, especially concerning ‘an inequality of poverty that pervades the city’, where 20 per cent of its citizens earn under $24,000 a year and ageing infrastructure would require $47billion dollars just to bring it up to scratch, without addressing its future needs. In that anticipation of future needs, London is far outstripping New York, he said. Weisbrod said that his city is facing quality of life challengers from others across the world, which is important in the battle for talent, and the cost of setting up business in New York is very high. Like London, New York is also facing steep population rises, with 600,000 more to arrive within the next 25 years, and 400,000 extra having come in the last four. ‘We’re not producing enough housing’, said Weisbrod. ‘It’s a refrain you hear around the world.’

Demand is twice as large as supply, so the mayor has charged Weisbrod’s department to come up with an ambitious housing plan to address such a serious problem, chiefly by creating greater density in some neighbourhoods. The goal is to create 200,000 units – either new build or ‘preserved’ – over the next 10 years, with a policy to do this in a ‘ground-up’ way, albeit often encountering difficulty in persuading neighbourhoods to accept density. It is also committed to introducing mandatory affordable housing as a percentage of developments, varying in different neighbourhoods – a radical policy change for the city.

Discussion of these themes began with an address from Wulf Daseking, Former Director of City Planning, Freiburg, who emphasized the need above all to have an influence on the ground price when it comes to providing housing. ‘We participated in the Wolfson Prize’, he said. ‘The point was you have to find a way to freeze the ground price so you can find the way out of your social problems’. Integration was the way forward, he added, not segregation.

Cécile Brisac, Founder, Brisac Gonzalez, said that inner Paris has begun to grow again and was trying to densify, with 10,000 housing units – either new or reclaimed from office space – the goal. Another target for the city is to increase social housing provision from 23-30%, even if the plan to build more of such housing in some of the wealthier areas of the city was ‘not going down very well.’ Paris is also looking to build more over railways or on brownfield land, without losing 1m2 of green space. ‘That means basically going up’, said Brisac. Tall buildings are being discussed on a case-by-case basis but have to be ‘exemplary’, said Brisac.

Stewart Murray, Assistant Director - Planning, GLA provided the home view. A report due out shortly will confirm that London’s population will grow from 8.4 million to 10.1 million by 2036, he said, and potentially from 10-12 or even 13 million by 2050 unless we do something drastically different. The city has an ‘unprecendented housing challenge’, which is being attacked by creating housing zones – 25 bids are in to deliver 55,000 homes. The target is as much as 50,000 homes per year, but London is delivering only 24,000. ‘We have to double output’, said Murray. ‘We are at a turning point. We do think there is good news coming out, but we need another step change if we’re to double housing output.’

Finally, Charles Leadbeater, Associate, Centre for London, said it was a question of perspective. New York looks in the peak of health if comparing it to the city in the 1970s or 1980s but it was a ‘dysfunctional kind of health’, he suggested. ‘There’s something dysfunctional about the way it generates growth’, he said. ‘The cost is inequality. The big question is: can you get fair growth?’ We have all known that cities have deep pockets of inequality, he added. The new story is the sheer spread of people who are working incredibly hard and have virtually nothing to show for it. ‘The crisis is not of poverty but the loss of the story of hope for cities’, he said.

Leadbeater suggested three things: the creation of social improvement districts, a health service which becomes a public agency for housing and a London land fund.

Perhaps another answer, said former Chairman of the City’s Policy and Resources Committee Judith Mayhew from the audience, was to create a kind of public land bank, remediate brownfield land and provide public infrastructure, especially to the east. ‘We have to be creative and think differently’, she said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

** If you missed the event you can watch Carl Weisbrod's presentation here and the following panel discussion here.


Meeting of the New London Sounding Board - 30/10/2014

Sounding Board - Agnese Sanvito
Sounding Board

The latest meeting of the New London Sounding Board grappled with subjects as diverse as London’s relationship with the wider south-east; regeneration; and what was branded part of government’s strategy to ‘dismantle the planning system’ via permitted development rights.

Topic 1: London’s relationship with the wider South East

CABE chair Pam Alexander kicked off with a plea to get the capital to look outside its borders to deliver a better quality of life for all in the south-east, and to try and fill a gap in strategic planning lost when regional planning was ended. Perhaps, she suggested, an England plan was necessary, or at least an approach to strategic planning that is not imposed from the top-down. It was important to keep an eye on investment in transport corridors, said Peter Eversden, chairman, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies, with strategic thinking needed to build local jobs. Sounding board chairman Michael Cassidy said London mayor Boris Johnson has an ambition to host an Expo in 2025 in London, but that after Ebbsfleet, Old Oak Common and Barking Riverside, there were no sites left or mechanisms in place to help the process. The residential opportunity in Kent is one which should be a natural for London, he added, but has not started yet, nor is there the process to adjust to the new market place of a London bursting at the seams. The duty to cooperate is not up to the task we face, said CBRE executive Stuart Robinson, and it seems ‘ludicrous’ that the way we need to integrate regions is through infrastructure, which is reliant on a slow parliamentary process. HS2 is a case in point, he added, which although it has got over its initial poor messaging to be perceived more as about capacity than high speed, will still be held up by three years through the parliamentary petitioning process.  One of the best – though much-maligned – places for job growth is Milton Keynes, said Pat Hayes, executive director of regeneration and housing at Ealing. But it was important to have a conversation about further New Towns, he said, armed with some of the lessons of the less successful ones such as Harlow. Yet getting the pricing of infrastructure and travel right is key. ‘Not everyone wants to live where they work’.

Topic 2: Regeneration – what is the industry doing to make lives better in London?

Strategic advisor Clive Dutton introduced the next topic around regeneration and what the industry is doing to make our lives better. At the macro- scale this could be a national economic plan for the UK, without which ‘picture on the jigsaw puzzle box’ Dutton believes it is impossible to talk about infrastructure, allied to ‘softer’ issues like quality of life or happiness. We never talk about the unheard people of London, added Dutton – the 1/3 of the population who are in poverty, 50% of whom are in working households, or the 600,000 people who are paid below the working wage. And lastly, Dutton raised the problem of public conveniences – or lack of them. ‘We’ve had decades of closures’, said Dutton, with 25% of facilities having closed since 2010 and 11 cities in the UK having precisely no public WCs. ‘What is the role of the local authority if it is not meeting basic human needs? How can we possibly talk about being a smart city?’ Rosemarie MacQueen, now a consultant but previously at Westminster City Council, said there was no legal requirement to provide lavatories but the current atmosphere in local authorities was that even the ‘need-to-dos’ were being analysed to see if councils could get away with avoiding them in order to make short-term savings. ‘There will be at least another five years of starvation’, she warned. HTA partner Ben Derbyshire suggested that the NLA runs a competition to design a PPP – a ‘Private Portable Pissoir’, but also that on planning there could be scope for a private-sector sponsored plan. Certainly the onus on the private sector is shifting. London Communications Agency’s executive chairman Robert Gordon Clark said that in the last three years the public meetings he has attended on major schemes have got ‘rougher’ on the developers to meet the gap of what is not being provided by the state. ‘I’ve definitely noticed a shift’, he said. ‘As less and less cash is provided by the state the developer is seen more and more as the cash cow.’ Hayes suggested that the real reason that planning applications are more fraught is the house price situation and a ‘two-speed economy’ – London and the rest of the UK was fast emerging because we have no regional policy. Could we move the capital city somewhere else, with all the government jobs that entails? The danger, if Little Englanderism takes hold, is to see ‘London unravelling’. Lambeth’s Strategic Director for Delivery, Sue Foster agreed that this period of austerity had led authorities to focus clearly on their priorities for spending, especially faced with cuts to budgets of as much as 40%. One of the solutions was to use a more innovative approach concerned with growth and investment, with a much more ‘creative’ conversation with investors. And, said Robinson, the biggest commodity authorities are sitting on is land. Councils thus need to develop investment vehicles and lever in available funds – mirroring what the landed estates have done for so long.

Topic 3: Permitted development rights

The final topic was permitted development (PD) rights, introduced by Rosemarie MacQueen, who revealed the negative picture from responses to the moves so far from across England, not least on how it had affected affordable housing, where some 3000 units have been lost as a result of the policy. Also at risk were the office rentals at the lower end – the local authorities were ‘not happy’, but Nick Boles thinks it is a ‘fantastic solution’ that should be put in place permanently. Another issue was with the retail to resi element – where retail can sit quite happily alongside nightclubs and the like, residential is a less amenable bedfellow. Whilst there is an upside, said David Reay, development director at Lend Lease, insofar as some projects would never have got underway without PD because they were too much of a market risk, there was the potential, said Publica director Lucy Musgrave for a resultant ‘huge monoculture’ developing outside of the Central Activities Zone. ‘We don’t need this absence of diversity’, she said. Architects too, are facing a threat by this PD move, said Ben Derbyshire, since they tend to occupy spaces at around the £25-£50/sq ft level. And neither are the exemption areas to PD safe. Michael Lowndes, executive director of Turley Associates said that it was ‘absolutely clear’ from his meetings with the DCLG that these exemptions will be taken away, with potentially ‘disproportionate’ problems arising from this crude policy. ‘Going from A to C-classes will be like going from chicken shops to rabbit hutches’ he warned. ‘We will have streets of really poor housing’. Some of that poor quality housing has already been refused at planning, but is coming back under the new rules, said Foster. It is all, said Igloo chief executive Chris Bown, ‘part of a much bigger strategy to dismantle the planning system.’ ‘It is a direction of travel that the government is on’, said Brown. ‘For those that think the planning system brings benefits, you may have to draw the line.’

Write up by David Taylor, Editor, NLQ


How do we deliver smarter districts for London? - 30/10/2014

Over the last six months, NLA have worked with research partners at UCL – the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) – to explore how smarter strategies can improve the way we design, plan for and manage London.

A special NLA Think Tank held on 22 October and sponsored by Arup, Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Crown Estate, brought together key built environment stakeholders to focus specifically on how we deliver smarter districts for London. How can the built environment industry work with smarter technology providers to deliver smart city projects? How can the industry keep up with innovation and speed of change? How can we ensure the timelines of construction projects keep up with the speed of technological change? How do we integrate different levels of smart technology in regeneration projects in London?

The backdrop to the discussion was a YouTube video encapsulating some of the massive information technology agents for change affecting our city and those across the world -

This is self-evidently a complex and far-reaching subject, requiring fewer silos and more joined-up thinking and collaboration across the industry. But the group agreed that on every level – sociological, political, technological and environmental – we need to question where we are and our role within the new, Smarter London. How successful it will be will depend on London’s ability to capitalise on the serious recognition which now pervades the city that we must invest in both its ageing and new infrastructure if the advantages of a smarter city are to be grasped.

The Think Tank, conducted under Chatham House Rules, explored three main topics, as they applied to buildings, infrastructure and engagement.

The main findings were:  
•            We are living in ‘exponential times’, where the pace of IT is affecting every sector of society
•            Smart organisations are tapping into a younger generation and pool of creative talent whose members are experimenting with new technology
•            Smart employers are increasingly understanding what attracts and retains these ‘smart’ employees
•            In planning, building use classifications appear archaic and need questioning in the era of blurred boundaries between work and play, for example
•            Data centres and other tech infrastructure are to today what the pumping centres were to the Victorians, but should be similarly celebrated and better integrated into the urban fabric
•            Buildings should have flexibility in mind in order to adapt and cope with technological influences and use changes over their lifetimes
•            Parametric design will herald a sea-change in creating buildings with a balance between value, flexibility, cost, and other variables
•            Building forms do not necessarily have to become more complex, however – and along with high tech companies inhabiting older buildings, there is a simultaneous drive towards more ‘authentic experiences’ such as provenance-driven food, wild swimming, real coffee etc.
•            We should move away from looking at single buildings through BIM etc and plan at a wider scale, which requires data sharing
•            On infrastructure, we have to stop asking ‘what will it cost?’ and instead ask: ‘what will happen if we don’t do it?’
•            Wikihouse – the open source construction kit – begins to suggest a new way of creating homes that is within the grasp of everybody
•            Smarter cities should think in terms of ‘wouldn’t it be great if’ rather than aiming to solve problems it cannot, like issues over health or crime
•            Construction has a lot to learn from control systems in other sectors which rely on data and sensors – monitoring and maintenance systems

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ  
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