The London Plan – Strategic Planning or Micro Management?

On the afternoon of 4 April, Future of London held an event that brought together Future London Leaders past and present to discuss “The London Plan – Strategic Planning or Micro Management?” The event considered:

• Whether the London Plan is an effective tool for tackling the city’s growing demographic challenges
• How effective it is in practice as a “resource for localism”
• If, in an age of austerity, the Plan could stifle local innovation.

David Fell began with his experiences during the public consultation of the original 2004 and revised 2008 London Plans. His contribution had come as a community economist for Just Space, an agglomeration of community groups, campaigns and concerned independent organisations. He felt that those Plans had been skewed towards developers and traditional economic sectors. However, the economic context and the GLA’s powers have since dramatically changed. Reflecting this, revisions of the Plan should consider unorthodox future economic scenarios, with the voluntary and manufacturing sectors becoming more prominent.

A major change for the GLA recently has been the transfer of power and land from the Homes and Communities Agency (650 ha), and subsequent new delivery powers. David reflected that, with the GLA’s change of purpose and remit, the next London Plan could be a completely different creation.

The London Plan was conceived as a spatial development strategy for the Capital. Although the attendees largely agreed with such a concept for London, they questioned whether in practice it was too ambitious a goal to be effective. It was suggested that London could potentially benefit from having a number of plans focused on smaller areas of London, rather than one overarching strategy.

One attendee then spoke on his practical experiences of working within the London Plan. He believed it to be an effective document for development control and management. He also thought it was useful for cross-borough and cross-organisational work, for example between TfL, the GLA and neighbouring boroughs.

Others reiterated that in their experience, the Plan was unreflective of, and less useful at, the local level. The Plan’s Opportunity Areas have often led to local opposition that could be construed as NIMBYism. As the local level interacts with the boroughs and not the London Plan, it was felt that the connection between the two ends needs to be more coherent.

The discussion then turned to the housing crisis, with near universal agreement that there are issues of affordability with the Affordable Rent Model, and that the spectrum of housing need now included many Londoners on middle incomes. One silver lining coming out of housing’s high cost is how all areas of London are becoming aspirational places to live.

Transport connections are crucial to this, and the London Overground was mooted as an example of this being successful. However, it was felt that transit oriented development was not sufficiently supported by the London Plan. The new plan will need to connect the projected population increases in London with the existing transport system, along with new projects like Crossrail 2 (the consultation starts in mid-May).

Future of London looks forward to having more Future London Leaders at its future events for more invigorating discussions.