GLA urges innovation to keep London’s makers

Tuesday 23 January 2018

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

© Agnese Sanvito

The days of the single-storey ‘shed’ may be over for London if the mayor’s push for ‘stacked’ industrial uses and other innovations in the sector make it into reality. The move comes in a bid to both retain more of the city’s crucial ‘support’ workplaces and stimulate more housing and mixed use at the same time.

This was one of the key issues highlighted by deputy mayor for planning regeneration and skills Jules Pipe last night as he joined a panel to discuss issues raised by the first British screening of London Made at the Barbican. Pipe said that the film, from director Alice Masters and We Made That, had played a big part in demonstrating that London was very much open for business and international in its outlook when it was first shown as part of the Seoul Biennale last September following the EU referendum. But in showing the behind-the-scenes businesses across London that provide goods and services for the Barbican, it also highlighted a city where industrial spaces were being redeveloped and lost at an alarming rate, some seven times worse than had been projected in central London.

‘We want to have our cake and eat it’, said Pipe. ‘We don’t want to choose between housing or maker space. We want new typologies, new approaches. These aren’t industries that are polluting or bad neighbours and there are far less attractive things to live above or beside.’

Pipe said London needs to intensify and help to provide new, innovative schemes for light industry and pledged that, in line with the draft new London Plan, there will be no net loss of industrial space, when taken across the city. The city must avoid becoming ‘a series of dormitories connected by expensive railways’, and the new draft London Plan supports developments with ground floor uses that are not the usual small supermarket on the corner. ‘We have to be far more creative than that’, he said, with a review needed of what homes might look like in industrial contexts. The cultural and creative sector adds £42bn of turnover to London’s economy every year, Pipe added, with one in six jobs in the area, growing at four times the rate of the rest of the economy. ‘And that industry needs space.’

But the kinds of innovations that are being suggested – such as creating multi-level industrial spaces mixed in with other uses – need help from the public sector and ‘strategic intervention’ at significant scale to get the ball rolling, said SEGRO director Neil Impiazzi. This is especially the case in places like the ‘almost too successful’ Park Royal, where landowners have little incentive to change what they are doing such as ‘stacking’, said Eleanor Fawcett, head of design at Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation. ‘We feel like there is a real need for exemplar schemes’, she said. ‘Once the ball is rolling I think the momentum will gather.’

Darryl Chen, partner of Hawkins/Brown, whose Here East project is an example of mixing makers with other uses said London’s paradox was that while it has a huge amount of industry, it also has ‘structural inefficiency’ at every level. ‘One-storey sheds are an example of places where you can intensify and imagine new things’, he said.

There is a PR perspective, too, said We Made That’s Holly Lewis, to get across the message that industrial is important for places and local employment. And in answer to some concerns about whether people might be put off living next to industrial, she added that the idea that London is not already mixed use is a ‘falsehood’. ‘We’re already living in a mixed city’, said Lewis, often next to noisy roads, for example. But a useful measure in the planning process would cover noise and, say smell, partially in answer to a question from Paul Karacusevic from the floor about why there was little in the film about London’s food providers whose businesses sometimes provoke ‘fear’ in planning departments. Other questions prompted a debate about the suitability of the use classes order; robotics; permitted development rights and the need to consider how much industrial uses could actually help London’s town centres too, away from the centre.

The London Made film, which documents businesses from pianos to props, lighting design to gin-making, describes the way London is losing some of its ‘creative centre’ as rising costs force some to relocate. It was introduced by the Barbican’s Sir Nicholas Kenyon, who stressed the importance of the ‘ecology’ of what makes London ‘tick’. Kenyon added that plans to ‘reinvent’ the Barbican in the context of the City’s ‘cultural mile’ along with the Museum of London, London Symphony Orchestra and Guildhall of Music would provide urban renewal in preparation for the arrival of Crossrail, when what he branded the ‘inadequate’ public realm in the area will also be made more noticeable. 

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London Made – a film and exhibition commissioned specially for the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism – celebrates the people, processes and places that make London a productive city.

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