There was much positivity surrounding the Draft London Plan at New London Architecture’s Big Debate on Monday, with the majority of the fourteen panellists agreeing that the plan had taken ‘some really important steps in the right direction’, but that key policies require a level of refinement prior to the plan’s adoption.
Amid much talk of identifying the unique needs of London’s boroughs, the need for affordable workspace, and the role of both small and large developers, the overriding concern was the need for housing growth to be sustainable, socially inclusive and acceptable to all. Moreover, the emerging policy theme was one of incorporating both the removal of the density matrix, excellent and innovative design, and genuine consultation with existing communities, to create a London fit and habitable for all.
The decision to abandon the density matrix was, on the whole, well received by all three panels. There were some challenges to the idea – with Claire Bennie, Director of Municipal and Mayor’s Design Advocate, highlighting that tackling under-occupation and encouraging downsizing also had a role to play, with the Chairman of Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation Liz Peace adding that downsizing needed to be more tax advantageous to increase its uptake.
More broadly however, there was agreement that excellent and innovative design could be a solution to both the recent poor quality of homes, and the key to unlocking space in urban areas where housing need is at its highest. London Assembly member Nicky Gavron claimed that ‘design led density is overdue and very welcome’, whilst Deputy Mayor James Murray said that authorities ‘need to earn people’s trust and work out how to bring Londoners with us’ to utilise the potential of higher density housing.
With Conservative Assembly member Andrew Boff arguing that Londoners should be surveyed to reveal their housing requirements, Lib Dem councillor Adele Morris and Green Assembly Member Caroline Russell both speaking at length on involving communities in the planning process, and Nicky Gavron’s assertion that ‘we cannot go on having alienated communities’, it appears that all major parties are committed to increasing community engagement.
As noted by Morris, the level and quality of amends made to the draft plan will demonstrate the initial level of commitment from the Mayor to engage with communities, setting the tone for community engagement throughout the industry. Regardless of the eventual amendments to the plan, it is clear that communication and public engagement hold the key to achieving successful and sustainable housing growth for London in the coming years.