London needs to replace its Green Belt with a Green Web, to allow for growth and to build enough new homes to meet demand.
A new report commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Planning and Built Environment, published by the London Society and revealed at LPA’s inaugural London’s New Politics of Planning conference last week, calls for the radical move, as part of a more proactive approach to planning. Taking a closer look at the western side of London, its authors say there is the potential to create 200,000 new homes and a similar number of jobs in just this part of the capital alone.
A new garden city at Northolt airport, and suburban densification could deliver substantial new homes, argue the report’s authors, Jonathan Manns and Dr Nicholas Falk. Existing infrastructure such as underused rail lines and canals need to be drawn together, with a focus on building better connected urban centres.
“Our review starts from the position that we need re-think how to plan, enable and deliver new development,” said Manns, head of regeneration and director of planning at Colliers International. “We demonstrate how a range of approaches could secure a greater amount of
construction, of a higher quality, more quickly and with greater public support. We also show how, when applied to West London, our ideas could radically improve upon present aspirations for the provision of new homes and jobs.”
Manns said the Green Web would be funded by value uplift from development: “The idea is about bringing built and natural environments together, but in a way which enhances the quality of each. We suggest that, within a green web, 50% of the land may be developed and 50% preserved in perpetuity under the control of a Green Web Trust. The Trust would manage the green space and be funded through the change in land value arising from the new designation. It would work to establish places which teem with wildlife, offer opportunities for wild play to children, are resilient to climate change, reconnect people with food growing and encourage social development.”
The report calls on planning authorities to be more proactive, and seek to ensure that communities have the information to engage meaningfully with planning issues. And planning needs to take place strategically, at scale. Political and economic feasibility needs to be considered, while communities need to be drawn more strongly into the change process. It also says a “circular metabolism” needs to be introduced, enabling localities to improve their resilience to climate change, and be more self-sustaining.
It also notes that, to build at scale, simply picking off brownfield sites will not deliver. Larger sites must be identified, or whole areas defined as suitable for intensification. One example of the latter that is cited is the Southern Gateway in Acton, where a borough-defined dense development has allowed for the building of a cluster of tall residential towers, close to existing transport nodes and without apparent major Nimby complaints.
Rupa Huq, Member of Parliament for Ealing Central and Acton, who chairs the APPG concluded: “Authored by two of Britain’s preeminent urbanists, this report makes bold recommendations. Whilst not everyone will agree with every aspect, the APPG welcomes this contribution to the debate about the future of London and beyond. It is only through innovative fresh-thinking such as this that we can begin to chart a course towards the type of cities in which we wish to live, work and play.”
LPA Perspective: The most controversial elements in this report, Re/Shaping London, Unlocking Sustainable Growth in West London and Beyond, are likely to be the suggestion that ‘In following a “brownfield first” approach, it is probably that greenfield and in some instances green belt land may also be required where a suitable amount of previously developed land cannot be found’. When push comes to shove, to accommodate growth, we will need to consider using low grade green belt land, in other words. And now that Theresa May’s Cabinet has approved a third runway at Heathrow, the concept of ‘The City in the West’, backed by the GLA to balance growth being encouraged in ‘The City in the East’ is likely gain momentum. There is something of a yawning gap in West London looking at the latest GLA strategic diagrams of the place that reflect low density, lack of public transport links, and underused land. The report urges local authorities ‘to be proactive’ and national government needs to ensure they are empowered ‘through resource and ability’ to be so. That’s what we need to see. National government, the GLA and the local authorities concerned, in the City in the West, funding and creating tangible, spatial, site-specific, illustrated visions that will accommodate growth. Not abstract coloured symbols and lines, and empty words, on outlines of London.