Waterloo Think Tank

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Waterloo must capitalise on new investment in the station and surrounding area and reinvigorate its public realm. But it must do so without neglecting its local population or affordable housing.

Those were some of the key sentiments to emerge from a wide-ranging Think Tank session on the area held yesterday morning at the NLA.

Lambeth Council’s divisional director for planning, regeneration and enterprise Alison Young said that with Waterloo station to a certain extent acting as the borough’s ‘shopfront’, it was important to attend to what for many is their first experience of London, both in the station and directly outside. New developments such as Elizabeth House – the David Chipperfield-designed Chelsfield scheme given clearance by avoiding a call in for public inquiry this week – and government’s potential £300m investment in Waterloo station are bringing confidence and making Young more ‘optimistic’ about prospects garnered through the rise of more focused, partnership working. ‘I think this is a key milestone in where we’re going’, she said. ‘We have to be confident that people won’t still look at Waterloo in the future and think how we’re going to fix it.’

The Elizabeth House decision will begin to reinstate office jobs in Waterloo, said Ted Inman, chief executive of the South Bank Employers’ Group, but the reasons why locals do not go for local jobs in the boom sectors of hotel, hospitality and tourism need to be addressed. Chelsfield development executive Yair Ginor said that the area has in fact lost some 7,000 jobs since the 80s, over which period the Bankside area has increased its tally by around 16,000. ‘We see no reason why Waterloo shouldn’t have that’, said Ginor, declaring Waterloo the ‘geographical centre of London’, with 90 million passengers coming in and out of the station annually. Chelsfield hopes to attract a mix of tenants, probably less from financial institutions and more from the creative sector, with Waterloo the ‘natural’ place for them, next to Europe’s biggest cultural centre. The scheme will also bring a considerable lunchtime spend for the local economy, as well as a boost to the supply chain in perhaps 900 jobs for printers, designers, and cleaners, for example. The opportunity is to make a positive change, backed by a ‘staggering’ level of coordination, said Ginor.

Given a clean sheet of paper, said George Roberts, partner at Cushman and Wakefield, Waterloo would be the office destination of choice, with its accessibility and cultural institutions. Perhaps, though, wondered Michael Ball, director of the Waterloo development Community Group, we should be more realistic about large office development, given the lack of any major pre-let in the area for 20 years, after losing some 100,000 m2 of offices in the last 10 years or so, and with the area’s visitor and cultural attractions having blossomed. Rather, said Ian Tuckett, group director of Coin Street Community Builders, we should look at what is happening with shopping, schools, open space. ‘It’s the mix and balance of Waterloo which is its great attraction.’

An offices location is not inimical with a residential or cultural offer, however, GLA’s Colin Wilson reminded the group. Waterloo has ‘an embarrassment of riches’ with a cultural quarter right in the heart of London. For Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, the key issue is about placemaking, and creating places with human scale rather than talking about sectors in isolation. And culture is far more than just a strip along the river – but who was painting the actual picture? For Tuckett this placemaking ideal was about ‘good and creative management’, while Helen Santer, chief executive for the Waterloo BID said this will be helped by providing good links across and through the station, creating an ‘ant trail’ for the significant influx of new employees and residents that would benefit local shops and services. With its large blocks and different atmosphere is the ground plan that needs to be worked on, added Alex Lifschutz of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

On affordable housing Alison Young said that the objective is to achieve balanced communities, with moves to flex policy and allow more offsite, but within the locality. Sue Foster, Lambeth’s executive director of housing, regeneration and environment added that it was important to create communities, not those where people aren’t living in the homes they own – as is the case in some parts of London. But Lambeth will be providing only around 280 affordable homes this year, well below the 805 Foster’s ‘Housing Needs Assessment’ says the borough requires annually. The Shell Centre scheme, added masterplanner Michael Squire, will also provide accommodation for older people – an important but often forgotten demographic.

Perhaps, concluded Alison Yates, in answer to that leadership question, Waterloo needs a bespoke partnership, limited company or other model, something to lead social and economic development in the area.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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