Sounding Board

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Issues as diverse as streets and cycling, rights to light and what London might face following the local elections were on the agenda as the New London Sounding Board met at Store Street last night.

Head of delivery at Transport for London Lilli Matson was up first, presenting the work her organisation is doing in the name of what is now ‘a very serious mode of transport’. ‘Cycling will make the city a better place to live in, and more efficient in terms of transport’, she said. It was good to have the kind of long-term commitment that has been attained, with some £913 million to be directed at cycling over the next 10 tears, and an aim of increasing cycling participation by 400% over the next 10-15 years. Matson said the programme involves more superhighways, more segregated and properly protected space for cyclists, moves to make London more permeable and legible, mini-Hollands and quietways.

Sustrans’ German Dector-Vega enlarged on the theme, saying that it was time to ‘leave the dogma behind’ and face facts that cycling is a mass mover rather than a marginal part of society. People needed to move on from ‘campaigning mode’ so that it was seen as business as usual, but that would take consensus and perhaps 20 years to get things right. In Germany, said Dector-Vega, people are ‘puzzled’ about how we say we are ‘cyclists, tubists, or horsists’ – it was time to allow designers and engineers to excite people with projects which incorporate cycling in the same way as people are excited by schemes like the Shard or the Garden Bridge.

In discussion, points were raised about how difficult it can be to penetrate the ‘silos’ of TfL on other street schemes, such as Wellesley Road in Croydon, about the need for wider-spread education of the next generation; for good, lockable and waterproof enclosures for bikes in housing schemes, and the possibility that the Queen Elizabeth Park could be a showpiece for cycling. Points were also made about the necessity to change the presumption against cyclists in law on accidents with motor vehicles. And NLA chairman Peter Murray said a new construction cycling commission chaired by Mike Hussey should help the construction industry should ‘put its own house in order’ over the 75% of cyclist deaths caused by construction-related lorries.

Next up was the issue of rights to light, and a paper presented on the ‘very lively issue’ by PTEa’s Andrew Beharrell. The current arrangements on issues of rights to light were imposing a ‘significant burden of cost and delay’, especially on the provision of new homes for London, he said. This is bad for business, occupiers and future occupiers, meaning people were being denied a new home or forced to wait longer for one. ‘In certain circumstances the balance should tilt a little more in favour of development’, he said. Planning authorities are making often subjective judgments, so Beherrall is seeking a set of standards special to London, but there are also problematic areas over developers being held to ransom by potential victims who can come forward with their claims at any time – even sometimes after a project has been built, seeking more compensation. In some circumstances a Section 237 order can be used, which intervenes between parties, but the City’s Peter Rees said these are limited powers and it was not planning’s job to do developers’ ‘dirty washing.’ The only possible way forward, he suggested, was to forget about planning regulations and use building regs instead, with national standards on light which are ether passed or failed.

Finally, London Communications Agency’s Robert Gordon Clark ran through some of the history of elections and power in London, predicting that this time around  in May we might see a turnout below 30%. The rise of UKIP was ‘not a flash in the pan’, he said, and the party could be successful in areas such as Havering. But he also predicted that 16 of London’s boroughs will not change, there will be eight boroughs which will have ‘fascinating skirmishes’, and eight including Croydon, Barnet, and Hammersmith & Fulham where things will be really tight. Nationally Gordon Clark predicted that there will be no change in a hung parliament, while in the mayoral elections in 2016 it was interesting to observe the shift to the left in Paris and New York. Might London follow suit? If Boris Johnson chose to stand again after all he would face far greater scrutiny of his achievements in his second term than he did of his first. As to Labour, Gordon Clark suggested that prospective candidates could include David Lammy, Sadiq Khan, Andrew Adonis, perhaps even Margaret Hodge. But he sensed perhaps that Tessa Jowell may run. Finally, he added, it was interesting to note a shift in the attitude of London’s councillors, as revealed in a poll LCA does every six months. Where once school places were the number one issue, affordable housing has moved up alongside, and will, he predicted, overtake it by some margin in the near future. 

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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