Blog: 23 March 2018‘Having It All’

Iain Painting

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Iain Painting

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The Draft London Plan will, if it delivers on its key objectives, will be the most amazing piece of planning policy: increasing the annual rate of housebuilding to 65,000 per annum, with no loss of employment floorspace capacity and no review of the Green Belt; all within 10 years! A planning holy grail.

We all have our views on the reality of this ambitious strategy being realised and attaining town planning ‘Nirvana’. However, one of the things that we need to give more thought to is our journey to Nirvana!

Planning generally deals with the end state: what the finished scheme or project will be, what it will deliver etc. But, in the world of constrained land supply, and rapidly changing work, commuting patterns, aided and abetted by technology, are we at risk of fixing the end state too soon? Should we think more about the journey to densification and regeneration, rather than the final scheme, with the ‘sun shining in the CGI, with happy people drinking happy coffee in the local centres’?

Communities change, technologies change and the way we live and work is almost certainly changing. Our buildings and, more importantly I think, masterplans need to be able to adapt to this too. This was a hot topic throughout MIPIM 2018, with a number of professionals seeking to unpick how we deliver this flexibility and adaptability at all levels in the development industry. It’s not an easy question but I do think it is one which cuts to the heart of Town Planning. 

Both the London Plan (current and draft) and the draft NPPF signal the need to focus on transport infrastructure. In addition, if we are to build successful places at the density required, then we need to look harder at the interaction with retail, employment, community uses. The danger is that we build the local centre too soon, setting the density pattern below that which could be achieved at later stages. We build commercial space that by the completion of development, is ‘behind the curve’, and as such undermine the potential residential uplift in value a successful commercial offer can deliver – see our latest research on ‘Real Streets’, released at MIPIM, for more on this specifically. Land use and local facilities also need to adapt to the development of the community as the development is built out and occupied.

At the conference, we debated the changing approach to employment space, loose fit architecture, and securing flexibility. Zonal planning has for some time now, been seen as a derogatory term. In our session on the London stand, I was pointedly reminded that my reference to work we have undertaken in Paris was reflecting on a very ‘different place’, but surely through zoning we could allow a community, a place to shape itself, and for change to happen.

Many powers already exist. Could we for example make more use of Local Development Orders (LDOs) to guide the development of a whole community and build in flexibility, allowing for change without the burden of reserved matters. An LDO can state the percentage of commercial and level of housing across a specific area, but then provide the developer with the flexibility to adapt and change as the development is built out and occupied?

In terms of retail and employment space, with the need to accommodate ‘churn’ an LDO could provoke quicker, better responses. Churn is hugely detrimental to local centres and high streets, reducing economic vibrancy and dragging down communities. Proactive combating of this within flexible planning regulations will be a huge bonus for regeneration. An LDO might also allow us to curate the commercial offer, and in turn secure further vibrancy and diversity – again a point we have flagged in our recent ‘Real Streets’ research alongside Forty Asset Management.

I also think this approach forces a place to more carefully consider its purpose and identity and therefore how it will get to Nirvana. Not everywhere in London or elsewhere can be tech city or a shopping haven, and we need to get under the skin of the place, the community and the needs and opportunities to deliver something fit for purpose, which can also evolve. Innovation and experimentation are key.

But what we must avoid is thinking too singular. By creating LDOs we do add new additional boundaries, and the danger here is that we do not think beyond them. The work in Paris I referred to earlier was around the Paris-Orly tram link, and sought to unite the places along its length, not to deliver homogenous transit orientated development (or TOD), but instead consider their individual identity and how this could knit into and make the most of the opportunity afforded by the infrastructure intervention.

Sadly, the success of the London Plan will be judged in retrospect. Dealing with the pathway to Nirvana will not only increase our chance of attaining the hallowed planning holy grail, but by providing flexibility, we may not be too fussed on setting the detail now, of something that we might not like in the future.

 

Posted with the following keywords:
London Plan, NPPF, MIPIM