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London needs planning to build resilience

15 November 2017 Author: Tom Venables

It has been a tough year for London.

From the shocking acts of terror on our streets this summer to the harrowing Grenfell tragedy, London’s resilience has been thoroughly tested during 2017.

As more and more are priced out of the city, putting London’s long term social and economic resilience at risk, it is of course housing that is the most pressing issue for the Mayor.

As Londoners, we are becoming increasingly aware that the air we breathe is toxic and our economy is under threat from Brexit uncertainty. Meanwhile, we remain in the grip of an affordable housing crisis.

Sadiq Khan has a tough agenda in terms of planning and development issues and has been criticised by some as being slow to act. Housing starts have fallen in 2017 and the Mayor has appeared to keep his distance from the development industry unlike predecessor’s Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

However, he has been busy overseeing a number of strategies published this year culminating in the eagerly awaited draft London Plan to be released on 29th November 2017 – 18 months after his election. The Mayor is looking to tackle congestion and air pollution through the “Healthy Streets” initiative outlined in his draft Transport Strategy, with the next generation of transit projects given support. His ambitious Environment Strategy proposes a zero carbon city by 2050 – and the world’s first National Park City – greener and less dominated by traffic. The launch of his “Good Growth” advocates is also a welcome move, placing the importance of high quality design at the heart of the planning agenda.

Many of these strategies look a long way into the future, but Khan’s focus will be May 2020 when he is up for re-election and will need to have shown demonstrable results. As more and more are priced out of the city, putting London’s long term social and economic resilience at risk, it is of course housing that is the most pressing issue for the Mayor.

Elephant Park MasterplanElephant Park Masterplan  Photo credit: Lendlease

Khan’s housing strategy published in September outlines a number of ideas to tackle the crisis, including a greater variety of providers, more social housing, more land for housing, and support for modern methods of construction. The Mayor has also now hinted that he may go further in the London Plan with a new affordable homes target of 65% and a need for 66,000 new homes a year – more than twice the 29,000 currently being built.

London needs good planning to tackle the housing crisis and ensure its long term resilience, and the London Plan is the primary strategy for setting out how this should be delivered.

Despite this big challenge London’s greenbelt remains sacrosanct with the main focus on brownfield land, including much more housing on often constrained public sector sites. This means development at much greater densities than London has ever seen which will inevitably mean taller buildings across the city.

But will this solve the housing crisis? Will denser, taller development be the answer – particularly in light of the Grenfell Inquiry the results of which are due this winter? And how can development take place in the London Plan’s many “Opportunity Areas” to truly benefit Londoners, delivering the required affordable housing, community facilities and high quality environments that the city deserves while meeting development viability requirements? Time will tell and the clock is ticking to May 2020.

One thing is clear: London needs good planning to tackle the housing crisis and ensure its long term resilience, and the London Plan is the primary strategy for setting out how this should be delivered.

London’s long term resilience forms the basis for this year’s RTPI London Planning Summit on 30th November 2017. We will hear from the Greater London Authority about the London Plan, consider how this important document can best ensure the capital’s long term resilience and how London’s planning community can help deliver.

This will be the start in a series of events that RTPI London is planning to hold during the London Plan consultation period and we will be seeking the views of our members in formulating a response.

The RTPI London Planning Summit Planning for Good Growth – Delivering a Resilient London takes place at the Museum of London on 30th November 2017. 

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Tom Venables

Tom Venables

Tom Venables is a Regional Director at AECOM and a trustee of the Royal Town Planning Institute.