2014 looks set to be a hugely busy year for the GLA as it battles a housing crisis, pushes through its plans for more Opportunity Areas and looks forward to 2050 and beyond in its search for the capital’s infrastructure needs.
Those were just some of the messages to emerge from a special crystal-ball gazing session at the NLA this morning from a number of speakers across sectors including the transport, planning, and governance needs of London.
Stewart Murray, assistant head of planning at the GLA, gave an extensive overview of the many facets of the authority’s operations, in what he called prospectively one of the busiest years even beyond the hosting of the London Olympics. As well as the alterations to the London Plan, the GLA is also developing a longer term infrastructure plan for 2050 which will include not just HS2 and airports but perhaps even look beyond London’s boundaries. It will, he said, start to address where London will be if the population continues to rise at the current rate. But people who talk about London being a brain drain for the rest of the country were wide of the mark. ‘We’d be in the doldrums of recession if it wasn’t for London’s dynamism’, he said. Housing initiatives were essential to increase supply with higher densities in town centres and Home Zones being partial answers. But there will also be an increasing number of opportunity areas, said Murray with five new areas: Canada Water, Old Kent Road, Bromley, Harrow & Wealdstone, and Old Oak Common.
Whilst there is a ‘huge row’ about tall buildings at present, Murray added, the mayor was clear in his faith of the view management framework, and only ‘wants schemes of the highest, world-class quality, in the right locations’. Tall buildings make a positive contribution to London’s growth, he added – ‘London is a changing place; that is part of its success story.’
TfL policy manager Richard McGreevy said that on transport, 2013 had been a good year for policy writers – and those who print them. Highlights of the year ahead include the Northern Line Extension to Battersea, which is slated to begin construction pending a favourable decision in autumn, the continuation of Andrew Gilligan’s cycling vision, with a ‘one year on’ event in February, announcing winners in the Quietways and mini-Hollands programme. One way of accommodating the rise in population of a growing city was to sweat the assets more, McGreevy said, which is being done on the tube network with upgrades to lines and stations such as Tottenham Court Road, while computer controlled signals will help the roads and reorganising freight deliveries will free up roads for more cyclists. Crossrail 2 will also provide a focus for growth areas too, ‘but personally I think the year will be dominated by HS2’, said McGreevy.
LSE London director Tony Travers said that no-one could have guessed that London would become such a safe haven - ‘a big, safe bank’ – for international property investors, particularly residential. But the development community needed to beware of the rest of the country’s concerns about this, and the prospect of politicians consequently feeling under pressure to level the playing field as a result. Building on the devolution of Scotland and Wales, Travers proposes devolving the full suite of property taxes to give London’s government control to manage these. He also warned about anxieties growing over the amount of development Crossrail might bring, and the prospect of a growth of regular individual stand-offs between boroughs and the mayor.
Other presentations included Sam McClary, deputy editor of Estates Gazette, who said that 42% of investment in London last year came from overseas, and expected that £6bn to grow this year. ‘The future of commercial property looks glorious for this year but we do have to make sure we are not blinded by the brightness.’ And finally Mike Lowndes, director of Central London at Turley Associates, said that despite the government’s red tape challenge, we should expect planning to become more complicated. There will be a ‘spread of prime’ in residential, with the contour of £2000/sq ft spreading out and resembling the core more. ‘The value is to be won in the outskirts and the metropolitan centres’, he said. There will also be more mayoral call-ins of schemes, Lowndes predicted, but also a concerning move away from the provision of on site affordable housing in favour of community payments. ‘It will really be squeezed’. Finally, Lowndes said that the government’s permitted development rights policy to allow more conversions of office to residential had ‘completely missed its target’ resulting in fewer offices and more substandard dwellings.
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly