Protect London’s crucial open workspaces, prospective mayors told

Monday 21 March 2016

Image: IPPR

London must do more to protect its protect its open workspaces or risk becoming a ‘dormitory’ city like Paris, with everyone living in the centre but commuting out to do their jobs.

That was one of the key viewpoints to emerge at an NLNA breakfast talk on the subject supported by the London Enterprise Panel on 11 March, against a background of a city hit hard by the government’s decision to continue with its move toward permitted development rights.

That, said Sue Terpilowski, chairman of the London Policy Unit at the Federation of Small Business, was a major issue, with places like Kingston having lost some 70% of its commercial space through the move, and businesses being forced out right across the capital. ‘What we don’t want to become is a Paris’, she said, ‘where everyone’s living in the centre and move out for their work, because that would not be the vibrant London we know and love. If that’s not what we want we have to make some very big decisions very quickly.’

People want to live in London because it is where we work and where family and loves ones are based, said Bootstrap Company CEO Sarah Turnbull. But it was time to start thinking about work, life and housing as ‘one side of the puzzle’, she said. Open workspace was important to allow those with ideas out of their bedrooms into more of a working environment where resources can be shared, especially with more people opting to commute from afar or split their weeks because of the steeply rising cost of office accommodation in the capital. Turnbull said many large blue-chip businesses are also wanting to get involved with open workspaces because they value the ‘creative thinking’ that goes on in these environments, as well as the buzz and excitement of working in a different way. London must make more workspace, lose less through PD and the transition of light industrial to commercial and housing, and make policy to make both happen, she said. Perhaps business relief could be extended to open workspaces too, Turnbull suggested.

The GLA has commissioned IPPR to look into the wider economic value of open workspaces. IPPR Clare McNeil said the firm is halfway through this report, which looks at issues including the risk of driving out enterprises that has come from the 1.3m m2 of conversions already approved under PD rights, as well as the formation of an ‘assessment matrix’ to help look at value and the social and community impacts of open workspace. It is asking businesses to complete a survey at http://bit.ly/IPPR-workspaces-survey

Despite the ‘frustration’ with PD rights, said Lambeth business and inward investment delivery lead Matthew Blades, many more councils were pitching to put resources into workplace projects, and many looking at their own assets. Lambeth has cerated workspace projects at Loughborough Junction, meanwhile space opportunities at Lower Marsh and Pop Brixton. ‘There’s a lot to celebrate at the moment’, he said.

Bow Arts Trust’s Michael Owens said a year ago the trust opened 90 studio spaces in Wapping and in a separate initiative now has artists working in 90 schools across London. ‘There are all kinds of opportunities to leverage the presence of a creative community in relation to local neighbourhoods’, he said.

Finally, James Friedenthal, Head of Corporate Development, Workspace, said the firm has some 4000 customers, but the number one concern for them is access to finance. ‘If you want to have open workspaces as a success story, it’s not about the point of entry’, he said. ‘It’s actually the point of exit from those open workspaces and how they can progress in a sustainable manner.’

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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