The London Plan is more of a forecast for what might happen to the capital than a strategy for how it could change.
And it has little in the way of answers to London’s housing crisis, the pressure on land for burial sites, local authority problems on skills or future transport issues – even if there are positive steps towards fire safety, good growth, and involving the community more.
Those were some of the main points to emerge from ‘Dissecting the London Plan’ at NLA, a look at the key chapters of the plan, the publication of which has now been pushed back beyond the London mayoral elections this summer.
The London Plan, explained Peter Murray, NLA’s curator-in-chief, is ‘our text for everything we do’, NLA having run various events to try and inform its new content including pushes on density, the green belt and London working more with its wider region, as well as delivering plans more speedily.
Head of the London Plan and Growth Strategies at the GLA, as of last month, Lisa Fairmaner, said that this iteration of the plan was the first ‘major rewrite’ and ambition to ‘provide something different’, but the recent reshuffle had meant that its publication had had to be pushed back. ‘In many respects we’re in a holding pattern’, she said. The plan is, though, predicated on the principles of good growth, with healthier streets and delivering the homes that Londoners need to the fore, said Fairmaner, as well as growing a good economy and increasing efficiency and resilience. Important issues include a new section on fire safety, air quality, urban greening and biodiversity with, she promised, ‘five or six’ guidance notes to come out before the elections.
‘They say you cannot judge a book by its cover but you can judge it by its table of contents’, said Allies and Morrison partner Artur Carulla, who added that the plan’s main task was to be ‘inspirational’ but also the same time ‘specific’, highlighting key issues like density, delivering good design, and character. But a new specific section on tall buildings lacks enough definition of what makes a good one, said Carulla, with the exception of its stipulation that it should have three main parts – a top, middle and base.
But it was housing where the main criticism came, from HTA Design chair and former RIBA president Ben Derbyshire. He said although there was ‘a lot of good stuff’ such as on good growth, wellbeing, fire safety policy and a welcome inclusion of the endorsement of 3D modelling, there was ‘sadness’ at the abandonment of required management plans, which are key to the success of large buildings. ‘One wonders whether the draft London Plan is merely a forecast of what might happen, rather than a plan’, he said, referring to a reduction in housing provision from the downgraded small sites policy. ‘If a plan doesn’t aim to achieve a change of behaviour, why are we calling it a plan at all?’ The London Plan falls ‘well short of a plan to solve the housing crisis’, Derbyshire added.
The conference also heard from experts including Liz Smith, regional partner and head of architecture at Purcell, who wondered whether there were strong enough links made between heritage and culture in the document, while Paul Turpin, sector lead at IBI Group, highlighted a growing problem in London that was not addressed, partially because we don’t talk about death – a shortage of burial sites. Natalie Thomson, director, head of strategy at BuckleyGrayYeoman, noted how the London Plan recognises changing working patterns and the need to provide more space for start-ups and SMEs in low cost and affordable workspace. Arup associate Dima Zogheib suggested that London ‘consistently undervalues’ its green spaces and that green infrastructure has a lot to contribute to bigger agendas, while on transport, Shamit Gaiger, director, strategic advisory at AECOM suggested that the plan does not look enough into what the future might be, in a fast changing sector with things like autonomous vehicles and even augmented reality allowing visits to GPs from the home. ‘It doesn’t proactively think about future generations and what they need and want and that’s a problem’, she said. ‘Don’t think cement’, she said, ‘think digital’.
Finally, during discussion, London Forum chairman Peter Eversden said although he welcomed it as a framework for local authorities to work more with communities he was very worried about the skills and resources they have to actually do that, and about a tall buildings policy that may lead to ‘serious unsustainable development’. Low-cost rent housing provision, was also a concern for him, after 20% was taken off the mayor’s target. ‘We have a plan which doesn’t meet need’, he said. ‘I think that’s called an unsound plan’.