With a new prime minister, mayor and London borough leaders, this autumn we are presented with a unique opportunity to rethink the kind of city we want to shape. Going into the third cycle since launching in 2020, NLA Expert Panels have been transformational in how we programme content, inﬂuence policy and instigate further discussion on key issues facing London’s built environment.
We’ve now got 15 panels, and after two years of responding to policy consultations, formulating industry surveys, visiting key areas of transformation and sharing invaluable intelligence, they are all working together to shape the New London Agenda: NLA’s multi-year project that will develop a joined-up vision for London to be presented to the next mayoral candidates.
It’s not an easy task we’ve given them, and we still have over a year of work and fruitful conversations, but for now, we will be sharing a round-up written by each of our Expert Panel chairs, summarising strategic areas that they will take forward into the next cycle to lay out the foundations for the agenda — we can’t wait to continue working together towards a new vision for London.
Ben Marston, Director, Jestico + Whiles
Over the course of our recent meetings, the panel identified a series of priorities for education from a built environment perspective.
Access to Education, to which we added Employment and Training, has been a recurring theme, particularly early years and adult education, where funding has been constrained. Panellists also linked access to the provision of a Creative Curriculum in schools. This has direct relevance to our sector: young people with limited access to creativity in their curriculum will be far less likely to pursue careers in the built environment.
Achieving Net Zero, an overlap with the dedicated NLA panel, presents a particular challenge in education where much of the estate already exists and is continuously occupied, inhibiting refurbishment. Ideas mooted included imposing a levy on demolition, zero-rating VAT on refurbishment and utilising capacity in the wider education estate to allow for programmed strategic retrofit including offers for employment and training. The connection of net zero to retrofit brought other ideas including a presumption in favour of change-of-use to education and against changing from education, particularly external spaces.
Wellbeing and the Quality of the Environment, aside from improving the quality of learning environments – ventilation / air quality being a particular focus in previous panels - brought a calls for best practice case studies from across London, for more Forest Schools, and, with landscape budgets routinely being the first to be cut, perhaps a per cent for landscape / public realm / greenspace, which is ring-fenced and protected.
- ACCESS TO EDUCATION: General need to improve access to education, particularly in early years and adult education. Policy recommendation for GLA and/or NLA to curate best practice and novel exemplars of improving education accessibility from across the capital and more widely to form a reference source for local authorities, educators and designers. This could include the use of redundant school buildings with an incentive for LAs to avoid disposal, particularly as the demographics of London have been shown to change from a fall in pupil numbers to rapid growth.
- CREATIVE CURRICULUM: A lack of opportunities in creative subjects at school inhibits young people, particularly those from non-traditional backgrounds, to consider, or be equipped, for careers in the built environment sector. This is important to encourage a wide, diverse and representative cohort so we grow our own future designers of our city, but helps all students build confidence in their approach to free and personal thinking and development. Policy recommendation for the national curriculum to be rebalanced with a requirement on schools to fully offer creative subjects and facilities alongside traditional academic routes. Also encourage active encouragement of partnerships with creative industries, possibly through tax credits for time invested, similar to the existing scheme for R&D.
- ENCOURAGING RETROFIT: Often retrofitting of buildings is not done because it is seen as the harder or more expensive option. Policy recommendation to drop VAT on retrofit education projects to allow for creative reuse and refit wellbeing and climate readiness. Also consider a demolition levy applicable to wholesale or substantive demolition of structure and superstructure (not incidental demolition as part of a retrofit), with the proceeds going towards improving the public realm and greenspace.
- ENCOURAGING EDUCATION USE: Education institutions are finding it challenging to achieve change-of-use to education. Policy recommendation to support a change of use in planning to education, and to inhibit change-of-use, except in very special circumstances, from education use.
- IMPROVING WELLBEING: Wellbeing and the quality of the environment, particularly the external environment is so important, but often side-lined, aspect of education provision. Policy recommendation: mandate a ring-fenced proportion of a project budget be spent on landscape / public realm / greenspace. Also consider making Forest School funding available from s106 contributions.