Hints of what might emerge in the new London Plan, which is being prepared by the GLA for launch in 2019, were unveiled by Colin Wilson, the GLA’s Strategic Planning Manager, at LPA’s Conference.
The pressure is clearly on at the GLA to more clearly direct boroughs as to how they can accommodate the growth that London has already experienced, to catch up with the backlog of new homes needed, and how to intensify its underused land – points that were reemphasised this week in Mayor Sadiq Khan’s document A City for All Londoners, launched this week.
Previous versions of the London Plan have avoided making direct spatial interventions ‘on the ground’, leaving this to boroughs. But it now appears a shift is taking place with the GLA’s planning department taking a more hands on approach, building on its masterplanning involvement in the capital’s Opportunity Areas – such as Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea and The City in the East, now complemented by emerging ideas about The City in the West.
Colin Wilson showed how a new more geographically precise Key Diagram for the capital was being developed that is much less abstract than the existing diagram, showing strategic industrial locations, in and out of town retail, utilities, proposed transport links and transport growth corridors, growth town centres driven by these, with a new additional focus on the City in the West, where potential growth with 210,000 homes, 150,000 jobs and another 600,000 people might lives.
He then focused down on the local plans of Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow where the three plans meet and analysed in detail where there were opportunities to rationalise low density employment uses existing across several sites and to introduce mixed-use development opportunities combining 1900 new homes with 34,000 sq m of employment space. A much more proactive approach than seen in the existing version of the London Plan.
LPA Perspective: It is very encouraging that the GLA is adjusting its ‘helicopter view’ of what might be possible on some of the large areas of historically underused strategic employment land. These sites have lain embedded in London’s boroughs for many decades now, preserved by historic planning attitudes to what might be possible in future, and driven largely either by outmoded notions of what is an appropriate combination of land uses today, or by local political adherence to old-fashioned ideas about preserving blue collar jobs and recreating long-since extinct industrial uses, which have largely been replaced in many cases by services-oriented businesses. It is a change in viewpoint that is long overdue and very welcome. It is also a positive attempt to gain greater control over the one-way street of much higher residential values eclipsing employment use values that has seen a lot of workspace converted to residential with no adequate replacement measures in place, obviously to serve market interests, but also frequently to abet political expediency. The prospect of the GLA persuading boroughs to engage more dynamically in this evolution, using a more spatially targeted, visual approach should be welcomed by all. It won’t be, but it should. It may even overcome objectors’ fear of the unknown by making the future more tangible and in doing so make planning quicker to respond to rapid changes.