What London needs from an incoming government

Monday 16 February 2015

The next government should prioritise actions for London on housing, transport capacity, fiscal devolution, the scale of development and overseas buyers, Europe and immigration, and a growing sense of ‘London versus the rest of the UK’.

That’s according to LSE London director Tony Travers at the latest meeting of the New London Sounding Board this week as he recommended items an incoming government must focus on for the benefit of the capital city.

It was hard to imagine housing not being a matter of ‘contention’ in this year’s general election and the mayoral election next year, said Travers, with new towns and urban extensions one potential answer raised later by Sounding Board members. Despite Crossrail, transport capacity is also a key issue, and given the long lead times of projects, getting commitments from politicians on other projects now was necessary. The topic that London kicked off – fiscal and city devolution – was another point that needed attention, while the issue of the scale of development and overseas buyers is another that Travers predicts will figure during the election campaign, albeit with the risk that the debate will take off in unhelpful and problematic areas. Europe will be a big theme in the general election and will have far greater effects on London than anywhere else in the UK, suggested Travers, while the London v the UK issue was on the rise principally because London is so successful, he added.

On the fiscal point, stamp duty is in the process of being devolved to Scotland and Wales, but the real problem is that London produces most of the revenue – Haringey, for example, produces more than either country.

John Walker, operation director, development planning at Westminster said he felt it was clear that the government was backing everything going into neighbourhood plans, but a problematic measure introduced just before Christmas, especially on the provision of affordable housing, was new planning advice on the vacant building credit. The measure will simply encourage more residential developments, said Walker, while Peter Eversden, chairman of the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies said permitted development rights were another thorny problem that has led to the loss of a great deal of small workspace. ‘The government must stop interfering’, he said.

Hawkins⁄Brown partner Roger Hawkins raised the notion of school building and a lack of provision on the social agenda, with the independent sector providing the exception in carefully analysing assets and sensitively building around them.

There is ‘enormous scope’ for densification, said Zaha Hadid Architects director Patrick Schumacher, although we haven’t quite worked out how you achieve density but retain a good quality of life, said Pat Brown. Pocket, moreover, is building on 16 infill sites on council sites but it is ‘incredibly hard work’, said the firm’s CEO Mark Vlessing, with no planning policy that helps it and no mention in the NPPF.  But a major worry was the ‘real dearth of resource’ within local authorities now. ‘It was bad five years ago’, said Vlessing. ‘It’s terrible today’.

The group also discussed what measures could be taken to steer the impact of London’s population growth on employment spaces. GLA area manager Tobi Goevert said that industrial areas are facing considerable pressure from redevelopment, resulting in many start-ups and SMEs now having to move further afield. So the GLA and London Enterprise Panel have agreed workspace projects and are commissioning an urgent review of industrial land including places like Park Royal. Such enterprise spaces are of significant importance for town centres, he said, but there was no policy way of protecting them, and neither were there targets for affordable workspace, unlike with housing, said Lambeth’s executive director of regeneration and housing Sue Foster. Stanton Williams director Paul Williams commented that many companies in the creative industries in London were being forced to move out, while Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners director Peter Bishop said there was a very severe risk of running out of flexibility of space in order to seed the next brilliant generation of entrepreneurs and risk takers. ‘The thing that London is running out of is void’, he said. ‘White van man’ also has to travel further because of a lack of light industrial space, said Central director Pat Brown.

Finally, TfL urban designer Shannon Rice introduced its new revised Streetscape Guidance, which looks at what is appropriate for London’s streets, and consultation over which has just begun. ‘We’re encouraging designers to be innovative, but not innovation for its own sake’, said Rice.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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