This autumn saw a competition from New London Architecture (NLA) which called for innovative solutions to London’s housing crisis. The winning entries ranged from plans to densify the suburbs and capture land value, to ideas for modular, communal and even floating houses. Submissions came from across the professions - architects, engineers, developers, designers, planners – a cross-disciplinary response which showed that there is no simple solution to the crisis.
It was the entry from GL Hearn that offered the most explicitly plan-led approach. Their ‘MegaPlan for a MegaCity’ called for the densification of London’s existing built environment, followed by the establishment of growth and transport corridors along which the city would expand beyond its administrative and green belt boundaries. It shares some common themes with reports from AECOM and the Centre for Cities, who have similarly envisaged how London might expand and connect with neighbouring urban areas. They see that solutions to the housing crisis may need to involve building outwards as well as upwards.
When Londoners take the polls in May 2016, they will elect a Mayor with the ability to plan strategically across 33 local administrations - covering areas like housing, transport, environment, health and regeneration. These are the most significant planning powers outside of Whitehall, and part of what enables London to function effectively. But there is currently no governance mechanism that would enable the Mayor to work with the areas surrounding London in the same manner. No structure for the kind of equitable, cooperative and strategic decision-making, at the regional scale, that would be required to make the MegaPlan a reality.
If the solution to London’s housing crisis lies even partly outside its boundaries, then we need fresh thinking on the type of incentives and governance structures that would enable the Mayor to deliver cooperate on planning across the wider Metropolitan region
The absence of such mechanisms risks an uncoordinated approach to regional growth. At a debate on the housing crisis in May, I heard local authorities from outside London speak about the difficulties of identifying land to meet the housing demand from London’s overspill. Recent analysis from Savills showed that London’s saturated housing market was putting pressure on surrounding areas, delaying the preparation and adoption of Local Plans. The absence of Local Plans opens the door to speculative development, and makes it harder to coordinate housing growth with the necessary infrastructure such as schools, green space or public transport.
So what can be done? In our 2015 policy paper we called on the government to provide strong incentives for strategic planning in areas where the Duty to Cooperate did not apply or was failing to deliver. Now in the run-up to the election, RTPI London is calling for member views on planning priorities for the next Mayor. If the solution to London’s housing crisis lies even partly outside its boundaries, then we need fresh thinking on the type of incentives and governance structures that would enable the Mayor to deliver cooperate on planning across the wider Metropolitan region, tackling the housing crisis as part of a broader strategy for growth.
RTPI members from London, the South East and the East of England are invited to submit their views on planning priorities for the next Mayor of London by completing this short survey from RTPI London. You can also attend their series of events in the run-up to the Mayoral election next year.
James Harris is the Policy and Networks Manager at the Royal Town Planning Institute, responsible for our policy work on regeneration, infrastructure and the environment.
You can follow James on Twitter @urban_wonder