New London Architecture interview Planning Director, Victoria Bullock...
What is your proudest achievement and why?
Getting myself and my kids out of the front door on a school day is an achievement in itself. On a work front, securing permission for the regeneration of the Ocean Estate in Tower Hamlets in a tight timeframe shows what can be achieved when everyone pulls together. By working as a close-knit team, we were able to deliver 819 residential units and 1,300 sqm of commercial and community uses across five separate sites. Not only were vital new homes provided, but the regeneration was focused on providing residents with employment, training and volunteering opportunities for a long-term future. Living in east London, I have driven past the completed scheme and am very proud of my involvement in it.
What would you have been if you hadn’t chosen the path you did?
Although I have had my feet firmly on the ground at Barton Willmore for the last 18 years since I graduated from the University of Manchester, I have always had aspirations to venture skyward and be an astronaut.
What or who has been the biggest influence on your career thus far?
The biggest influence for me for as long as I can remember has to be the chronic undersupply of housing and shortage of land. The kid gloves have been worn for too long. They need to be removed because this shortage drives nothing but increases in cost, conflict and exclusion.
What would your advice be to those starting out in your profession?
‘Grabbing every opportunity you can’ is what was drilled into me and I certainly advocate it. On first look the project may be dull or not what you envisaged yourself working on when you were at university, but you don’t know where the project and the contacts you make on it will lead. Do a good job, people will remember you. Work on your contacts. Whether it involves asking colleagues about being mentored, sitting in on planning meetings, attending NLA networking sessions, signing up to the NextGen programme or simply just by getting your face out there.
What is the biggest challenge facing London?
London faces a massive lack of housing and affordability that will result in the city becoming increasingly polarised. We have seen the ripple effect of pricing forcing those on lower salaries (and even some that are quite well-paid) out to the edges of London. There has to be a tipping point where those in the service industry can’t afford to live here any longer or pay the costs of travelling in.
Do you think the new draft London Plan adequately addresses the capital’s needs?
Personally, I was hoping for more in terms of strategic vision from the draft London Plan, but compared with other parts of the strategy, the front end is light. Over prescription only serves to limit supply.
What are the Plan’s most and least successful elements?
The spatial strategy could be excellent, setting the basis for how London will grow, the spatial priorities and how the capital will relate to the wider South East. The concept is good, but the level of strategy detail is too low.
Do you think that green belt legislation needs a review?
Absolutely. But no politician is going to take that poison. The green belt has been extended and is seen as the best way to limit development, washing vast swathes of the country. We must remember that the green belt was accompanied by New Towns and a surge in public-sector housebuilding. We should critically review the outer edges and also review in light of step-change events, such as airport expansion, rather than just a headline of ‘watering down the green belt’. I also think there needs to be public education on what the green belt is. Green belt does not automatically mean a high quality of landscape or ecology that should be protected. It is often simply retaining openness for openness sake.
What single thing would improve the planning process?
Other than local authority resourcing? The profession needs to be able to attract the most able and capable of professionals and retain them, rather than being seen as a course that people ‘fall into’.
What would you do if you were Mayor for the day?
I would ditch the ticket inspector for the day and offer free public transport for everyone. The pricing structure results in those on the lowest income taking the slowest mode – that is, the bus.
How optimistic are you about London over the next five years, and why?
London is a fantastic city. However, the housing crisis and wider affordability issues need to be resolved if we are going to be able to continue to attract and retain staff and avoid an increasingly polarised society.
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New London Architecture , Planning, London Plan