It’s Well Worth Reading Beyond the Mayor’s Headlines

The Mayor of London published his draft Infrastructure Plan today, which projects London forward to 2050, and considers a context for London in which 11 million people live in the City.  The document itself, together with the accompanying presentation, is easy to read, thought provoking, and in many areas challenging.  

The Mayor launched the draft Plan at Barking Riverside, a fitting location for the type of development necessary to keep check on London’s spiralling demands on housing, particularly from the quiet middle; the aspiring home owner that can’t afford to spend £1m+ on a family property, and young professionals in search of decent rental accommodation.  

The headlines are a Tory General Electioneer’s dream: investment in roads, rail, tube, employment growth and a commitment to maintain London at the top of the international tree for competitiveness, whilst leaving the Green Belt unscathed, at least until 2025, whilst delivering 400,000 homes on brownfield land.   

However,  it’s well worth looking under the skin of the announcements, and the draft Plan itself.  For example, the Mayor claims that it is not feasible to adopt an ‘Abercrombie-style’ approach to planned growth, suggesting that “you have to go with the grain of how people live their lives”.  For those that don’t know Abercrombie, he wanted to disperse growth to outlying settlements, to try and share the wealth and opportunity inherent in London.  There’s no need to get into the detail of that – that’s a whole new blog entry – but it is worth considering the implications of the Mayor’s statement.  With no strategy to mitigate the relentless demand on London, is it really feasible to cater for the Capital’s housing requirements on brownfield land alone?

Notwithstanding the Mayor’s announcements, I don’t believe there’s anyone at City Hall – especially the Mayor – that really believes the Green Belt will survive unscathed – because the draft Plan pretty much says so.  There’s some very interesting maps that imply growth spreading out, like a spider’s web, to a variety of towns and conurbations well beyond London, which has a great big whiff of a latter-day Abercrombie.  Even if London doesn’t touch its Green Belt, the Mayor is effectively asking others to.  Equally, whilst the draft Plan does infer that the Green Belt in London will not be touched before 2025, the caveat is that the next comprehensive review of the London Plan will look afresh.  That’s scheduled for 2016, so safely after the General Election. 

There’s much to like about the document in taking a forward thinking approach to London’s aspirations and pressure points, but I can’t help but feeling that this is a further example of planning in isolation.  I love London, and am proud of its success, and I want it to stay the no.1 City in the World.  But how can the City be planned without thinking about either a south-east or national context?  How can infrastructure be planned if the only regard is the destination – London – and not the source? I really hope people read the draft Plan and make comment, but I also hope that the TCPA in particular put pressure on Government to think about the UK in 2050, and not simply London.

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