The GLA is running a consultation as the first step towards producing the next version of the London Plan.
It is the more important given that London has taken a beating in recent times due to a combination of factors: the failure to secure a Brexit deal that supports key business sectors, the Covid pandemic, the politicisation of TfL, and the reciprocal consequences of “Levelling Up”.
However, the current London Plan is far too detailed, to the point of being counter-productive. It tends to obscure the objectives of the planning system, and leads to a great deal of wasted time and cost when applicants find themselves cross-referring innumerable Borough and London Plan policies, and engaging in “head of a pin” arguments about which policy actually applies and what it means. We would like to see the authors of the next version start with a clean sheet, and be really focussed on providing a strategic framework within which the Boroughs can weave detailed policy.
As to substance, several important subjects ought to be addressed, again on a “clean sheet” basis, with established assumptions set aside. These include:
How to realistically bring about the increase in housing (and especially housing that is affordable to the people London needs for its survival and prosperity) that is required. At the moment, we are caught between encouragement to build densely in accessible locations (but not too densely – or certainly too tall) and a blind fixation with protecting the Green Belt (much of which was designated in very different conditions in the middle of the last century, and now serves little or no useful planning purpose). The London Plan should be bold in endorsing height and density where the conditions are right, and in paving the way for careful review of Green Belt boundaries – again, where the conditions are right, and especially where open land could be made more valuable to the people of London if handled in more imaginative ways.
The London Economy
How to bolster the London economy in an era of rapid (and in many respects unpredictable) change. The answer is almost certainly not to try and get ahead of the curve in any detailed way, because even the brightest planners will almost always fail to achieve this. It must be able to create a flexible framework which will generate the opportunities for adaptation and the capacity for new development. This is likely to include embracing mixed-use development (and the compromises this often entails), releasing some Green Belt land for types of activity that cannot satisfactorily be accommodated within the existing urban fabric), and facilitating the planned reshaping (and sometimes contraction) of town centres.
How to ensure that London’s transport system can continue to be adapted and improved. Planning can play a key part in this, by allowing value-generating development to take place in locations that can support new transport investment.
How to encourage the redevelopment of obsolescent urban fabric where land is in multiple ownerships. This extends beyond planning into governance, infrastructure funding and compulsory purchase, but planning has a key role to play in setting the agenda for comprehensive change in certain localities. Such localities may include low density suburban areas which are served by high quality transport infrastructure, parts of the Thames Gateway which were redeveloped in the ’80s and ’90s but which now appear very much under-developed, and places where publicly owned land is under-utilised but change is stymied by diverse ownerships.
How to pursue climate change objectives simultaneously with other planning objectives. Too often in society and the media either people assume it has to be one or the other, or else there is blind faith that somehow such simultaneity will be possible but the details are left for another day. In the wake of COP26, the new London Plan presents a great opportunity to find practical ways in which things can be brought together (or, if they can’t, how informed choices can be made).