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AJ August 2002 Practical planning advice # 70

by Brian Waters

London Plan goes for growth

LondonÕs Mayor has published a consultation draft of the awaited ÔSpatial Development StrategyÕ Ð the London Plan. Intended to be the first of a new breed of plan it aims to be a model for other conurbations.
It is shaped by the GLA Act of 1999 which gave the Greater London Authority three principal purposes: to promote the economic and social development and environmental improvement of Greater London. The London Plan has to integrate the mayorÕs various strategies which will be covering transport, economic development, housing, culture, environment, children and energy.
The claim is that the Plan is to be led by a vision rather than by trends. And this vision is clear and largely consistent in the 400+ page document.* It acknowledges LondonÕs huge problems Ð a growing population, decades of under-investment and acute housing shortages; it sees spectacular opportunities Ð a buoyant globally traded service sector, heritage, tourism, diversity and character; it seeks to address the problems and realise the opportunities in a sustainable manner.
It clearly recognises the need for long term investment which will result in higher density, mixed-use development served by good public transport with adequate capacity. It sees transport interchanges as being the focus of sustainable growth Ð Ôan urban renaissance built around public transport.Õ
Though the Plan does not see tall buildings as necessary for achieving high density but says their visibility means they are likely to have a higher impact than other building types and therefore need to be of exemplary design. ÒLondonÕs dynamism can be reflected in a skyline incorporating visually contrasting buildings.Ó The Heron Tower decision reinforces the PlanÕs stance. More broadly it is the first plan to adopt the agenda of the Urban task Force and the Urban white paper. It also adopts the RICS-promoted notion of Transport Development Areas (AJ *****).
The Plan promotes sites for major clusters (Central Activities Zone and the Isle of Dogs) and tall buildings in opportunity areas such as Paddington, Waterloo, London Bridge, Stratford, Elephant and Croydon.
The GLA wants to work with boroughs to identify further suitable locations for tall buildings to be incorporated in their UDPs whilst being sympathetic to managed views and historic assets. The underlying message is clear. The influx of population is to be encouraged. Newly published figures from the Government Actuary show net inward migration, which is concentrated in London and the south east, of 158,000 last year and projects growth of a similar order to 2025. Successfully accommodating this trend will maintain LondonÕs competitive position as a Ôworld cityÕ and the economic benefits will accrue to all Londoners as well as the national economy.
Initial reactions range from the London Housing FederationÕs welcoming of the PlanÕs affordable housing policy to the Association of London Government criticising it for neglecting the suburbs. The RIBA queries the compatibility of the Plan with GovernmentÕs Green Paper reforms of the planning system. Others including London First raise doubts about the ability to deliver what is promised.
The London Plan has a 15-year horizon which underlines the fact that its achievement will not be in the gift of one Mayor. Indeed it has to be remembered that the idea of a Mayor is to promote and lobby for the interests of his citizens and he does not have the powers needed for the implementation of his vision. The London Plan is intended to supplant the ÔParts OneÕ of the boroughsÕ development plans and here is an area for conflict. Whilst the City of London will welcome the expansionist thrust of the Plan, the City of Westminster is racing to get its reviewed UDP adopted ahead of the Plan since it seeks to resist such of its features as intensification of the central area (including the 24-hour society) and the encouragement of tall buildings.

I was taken to task for my discussion here (27 June) of ÔdensificationÕ policies by Robert Williams (letter 11 July) and some planners feel that Urban Task Force and similar emerging policies are misguided since they emanate from Ônon-plannersÕ. It is certain that they cannot be implemented successfully by one Mayor or by planners alone, but need the skills and commitment of good architects and their enlightened public and private clients. So its over to us then.

On planning, urban design and regeneration. ¥ promotes more intense use of available land, mixed use development creating balanced communities; ¥ intensified development in the central area and opportunity areas; ¥ major development to the east, enhancement and diversification of suburban, district and local centres; ¥ improved access, services and sustainability in suburban areas; ¥ strategies to ensure that areas of regeneration benefit from growth, and ¥ the integration of spatial policies with those affecting health, renewal, safety, employment and housing and improvements to the public realm.
On architecture and design. ¥ it sees mixed-use development optimising the use of land and reducing the need to travel long distances; ¥ high standards of urban design achieving best use of space; ¥ increasing the supply of housing by encouraging higher density development where there is good access to public transport, using new building technologies to promote sustainable construction, energy efficiency and less waste. ¥ integration of development with transport to limit parking and designing for pedestrians rather than traffic; ¥ sensitive infill development and design initiatives relating to policing, safety and crime reduction.

On open spaces. ¥ promotes a robust approach to their protection; ¥ wants equal access to open space regardless of where people live, to work with boroughs in protecting and promoting a network of open spaces; ¥ to be fiercely protective of the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land and for the boroughs to consult with the Mayor before reviewing green Belt boundaries.

Brian Waters is principal of The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, brian@bwcp.co.uk/ www.bwcp.co.uk