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Peter Murray

 

Over 200 members gathered at the Jarvis Hall in Portland Place to hear Ben Derbyshire, President of the RIBA, talk about ways to deal with London’s housing crisis, and the challenges faced by architects and planners. Barry Coidan reports.

Building Greater London – or how do you make our city better when nobody wants new neighbours?

In setting the scene Ben painted a less than rosy picture of London’s housing. We have a broken housing market. The supply of new homes is well short of the target of 66k a year set by the Mayor of London. Rent takes up far too much of people’s take home pay – averaging around 57% with “Buy to Let” landlords unwittingly exploiting those who can’t afford to buy.

You could characterise London as a divided city. Divided over new developments with opposition to almost any – the haves excluding the have nots. Yet there’s space to build. London’s housing density compared with other major capital cities is much lower: outer London boroughs average 16 dwellings per hectare. London is also aging, in terms of its population and major infrastructure.

The capital has so much going for it! It is creative, it is sharing, energetic and productive. Ben’s manifesto “Let the People Build” drew on this energy and creativity to show how London could accommodate its growing population in a humane and invigorating environment.

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Peter Murray

In the latest talk in our ‘Planning for 10 Million’ series, Alex Lifschutz (Lifschutz Davidson Sandiland) and Colin Wilson (London Borough of Southwark) discussed the recent history of “Affordable Housing and the Planning System from Margaret Thatcher to James Murray.” Barry Coidan reports.

Alex Lifschutz bravely began by describing a planning/regeneration project that went badly wrong. His firm was involved in the original plans for the “Regeneration of King’s Street, Hammersmith.” On paper there was nothing wrong with it. Affordable housing along with less affordable homes with the development centred on Hammersmith Town Hall and a fine old cinema. Unfortunately, the scheme was overblown the local authority wanting to get as much out of the development (and developers) as possible. There were two plans, there was massive opposition by residents. The much loved local Cineworld cinema was at risk. The second plan, however, was approved at a stormy Council meeting and the cinema was to be razed to the ground.

New developers moved in and demolished the Cinema. Control of the Council changed hands and the new Labour administration stopped the development. Anger and disappointment followed. Planning and design had played second fiddle to commercial interests. That imbalance proved disastrous: the outcome was a much loved cinema demolished and nothing for the Community.

Thankfully we moved onto an uplifting success story. Coin Street Community Builders. Twenty years ago this area of London was bleak, unattractive, with few shops and restaurants, a dying residential community and a weak local economy. Today it is thriving mixed and balanced neighbourhood: a destination for millions of Londoners and visitors from overseas, with a thriving residential and business community benefiting from ever-expanding community facilities and services. How did that happen?

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Peter Murray

 

The final talk in this year’s Planning School was given by Euan Mills (Future Cities) and Professor Mark Brearley (London Metropolitan University). Barry Coidan reports.

Euan Mills is the Urban Planning and Design lead in charge of Future Cities Catapult’s Future of Planning Programme. Euan talked quickly: he had to he had a lot to get in a very short space of time. Technology is changing us, it’s changing how we live, work and interact. It’s changing businesses and how we do business. Where we do business, where we live is more and more in cities. But our cities are analogue, tied down with analogue planning systems. The city environment is changing rapidly driven by digitalisation and big data, but looking at the planning system you’d think the last 20 years hadn’t happened.

Not so long ago the most valuable companies by share capital were those involved in energy, metal bashing and heavy industry. Now those companies have surrendered their place to the data companies. The companies that have grown up in the last 20 years – Google, Facebook, Amazon etc – as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.

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Peter Murray

 

The latest in our series on the Great Estates of London touched on one of the newer landowners; Steve Norris of Soho Estates reported on ‘sex and the city’ in W1. Barry Coidan was in the audience.

Soho has a rich and varied past, much like the founder of the Soho Estate Geoffrey Anthony Quinn (aka Paul Raymond). Steven Norris had great fun introducing us to Soho, Soho Estate and its founder.

Steven himself has had and continues to have a rich and varied life. Businessman, MP, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport and Minister for Transport in London under John Major in 1992, where he was responsible for the Jubilee Line Extension, the largest extension of the London Underground network to date. Not forgetting his candidature for Mayor of London in 2000 and 2004. As well as all that he was at school with Paul McCartney!

Paul Raymond, like our speaker, was from Liverpool. Born in 1925 he was keen on the theatre and having successfully avoided National Service he could be found at the age of 22 on Brighton Pier as part of a mind reading act, having changed his name to Paul Raymond. He arrived in London in 1950 but the genesis of his property empire was in 1958 when he opened the Raymond Revue Bar and subsequently in 1960 bought the freehold for £14,000. In those days the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was guardian of public morals – all sorts of entertainment came within his purview. The Revue Bar’s attractive and naked ladies attracted both large audiences and the attention of the Lord Chamberlain. To get around this it became a private club.

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Peter Murray

 

This year the London Society has arranged a series of members-only visits to see behind the scenes at some of the capital’s most innovative architectural, design and engineering practices, and to hear the principals talk about the history and the vision of their businesses.

Last month we were the guests of Bob Allies of Allies and Morrison. Barry Coidan reports.

It’s not often you win an architectural competition by having no kids in the drawing, but Bob Allies believes that was why he and Graham Morrison won the open competition to design a new public landscape at the Mound in Edinburgh in 1983. They began working together in the evenings but after this success they formed the partnership the following year.

The design was deliberately austere – not to detract from the landscape of the site and the two public building that dominate it. The design used local sandstone – traditional material in a traditional way. Only fragments of the original scheme now remain.

By the 1990s, the UK was in the midst of a serious economic recession, yet plans for a new Embassy in Dublin went ahead despite government cut backs. Winning the design competition for the Embassy was Allies and Morrison (A&M)’s big break. The design was presented as a hand line drawing – before computer assisted design – an approach which the practice became known for, along with scale models which are an important means the practice uses to communicate its design ideas. An early example of which was the model for the new Abbey Mills Pumping station in east London. The original pump house was designed by Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s. These public commissions got the practice going, allowing it to weather the 1990’s recession.

Following these early successes, Bob then gave us a taste of some of the work Allies and Morrison has carried out over the years.

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Peter Murray

 

As part of our Planning for 10 million series, Colin Wilson Strategic Planning Manager (Greater London Authority) and Ismail Mulla Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Manager (London Borough of Enfield) returned to the hardy perennial of London Society debate, whether the Green Belt should be sacrosanct, or whether land within it can be given over to other uses. Barry Coidan reports. 

London’s Green Belt had its beginning in the 1880’s. Lord Meath, a major philanthropist and social reformer, believed that city growth was leading to national degeneration. He proposed the provision of numerous open spaces for recreation and exercise in over‐crowded working‐class areas. Meath founded the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, a major Victorian environmental organisation, and originated the idea of a green girdle or belt round London as a sanitary, health device. The London Society in 1913 was involved in the development of the idea – Green Lung for London as well as a policy of urban containment.

The Green Belt is 515,000 hectares, a quarter of which is within London’s outer boroughs. In the current London Plan the Mayor strongly supports the continued protection of London’s Green Belt along with that of the Metropolitan Open Land. So how do you provide housing, jobs etc for an ever increasing London population and yet retain this Green Belt? This is the conundrum Colin and Ismail sought to address in their talks.

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Peter Murray

 

 

 

The Portman Estate is synonymous with Marylebone. Its Georgian residential architecture nestles within the West End’s commercial centres of Baker Street, Oxford Street and the Edgware Road. Executive Director of the Estate, Simon Loomes, shared the history and the 21st century vision for this important part of central London. Barry Coidan reports.

Simon took us on a high speed tour of The Portman Estate telling us about the Estate’s origins, its strategy and development programme as well as the exciting Business Improvement Districts and Public Realm initiative.

The Portman Estate is made up of two farms across Buckinghamshire and Herefordshire and the London Estate: 110 acres of prime property in Central London located between Oxford Street and the Edgware Road and extending north towards the Marylebone Road and east to Manchester Square. The Estate is made up of a mix of residential, retail and office properties – in total some 650 properties and 2,200 direct tenancies with a balance between short and long term investments ranging from 1 year to 125 year leases.

65 staff work in the Estate’s management unit maintaining a high quality, high value letting portfolio aimed at delivering a vibrant community with a judicious mix of offices, shops and residential premises.

The Portman Estate is one of a number in London which include the Grosvenor Estate (Mayfair and Belgravia): the Cadogan Estate (centred on Sloane Street and the King’s Road):
the Howard de Walden Estate ( Marylebone) and the Crown Estate (Regent Street and much of St James’s).

The Portman family were originally from the west country, farming some 10,000 acres in Somerset. The London estate’s origins lie in 270 acres of farmland two miles outside the City of London leased by Sir William Portman in 1532, who acquired the freehold 20 years later. Up until the 1760s the land remained in agricultural use – thereafter it was built upon and by the 1880s fully developed.

The size of the present day Estate is less than half of that originally purchased in the mid 16th century. The family deaths in the first half of the 20th century and the resulting taxation hit the Portman family hard. As well as selling all their land in the west country; after the death of the 7th Viscount in 1948 the remaining northern parts of the Estate were sold in 1951 and 1952.

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Peter Murray

 

The fourth of the Society’s Saturday Morning Planning School talks was on Saturday 11th November 2017 with Rachel Fisher (Head of Infrastructure in the Cities and Local Growth Unit at DCLG) explloring the flip side of local growth – can places become too successful? Drawing on international and UK examples, the talk explored the relationship between planning policy and what happens in reality. Barry Coidan reports.

On Saturday we were treated to Rachel Fisher’s enlivening personal view on how growth happens on the ground in towns and cities here and around the world.

Rachel began with the general and took us down to the particular – Harlow, a planned town in Essex, and Haringey, a not so planned borough of London. On the way we visited New York, Bologna and Bilbao.

In general terms the conditions for growth (and prosperity) are: good jobs, homes (affordable and market priced) and connectivity – be that broadband or transport links. We’re all urban now. The 21st century is the century of cities and London takes its place as a global city – with a huge population vying for limited space. Imagine the functions of New York, Washington and Los Angeles in one place – that’s London. Its size, economy and status means it has a disproportionate impact on the rest of the UK. Scaling a map based on population, the UK looks grotesquely distorted – with London bloating out much of England south of the Wash.

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Peter Murray

 

The third of the Society’s Saturday Morning Planning School talks was on Saturday 4th November 2017 with Dr Paul Watt of Birkbeck College University of London discussing regeneration projects: what is meant by ‘urban regeneration’ and an examination of  what is referred to as ‘sports-led regeneration’ with particular analysis of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Barry Coidan reports.

Dr Watt’s talk – “London 2012 and the post – Olympics city – a hollow legacy?” began with an overview of urban policy, and regeneration in the UK and Europe. We then looked at recent Olympic Games and their raison d’être besides being sporting spectacles, before focusing on the London 2012 Olympics and its stated aims, the geographical area it was to impact on and its outcomes.

Urban Policy is broad brush: focused on area or territorial impact, not geared to a specific clientele, service provision or benefits. Regeneration seeks to bring about physical renewal as well as social and economic improvement to the area affected. This change is to be sustainable and achieved through a mix of private, public and voluntary sector involvement.

There was, however, little evidence that government decision making recognised that urban regeneration affected different people differently. This lack of recognition in developing a regeneration strategy – asking who it was for, who are to be the real beneficiaries – would impact on the desired outcomes.  

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Peter Murray

On 3 October, Michael Welbank, Chief Commoner and Past Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee talked to the Society as part of our Great Estates series. Barry Coidan was in the audience.

A sizeable audience was treated to a brisk canter through the byways and backwaters of the City of London and its Great Estates. Chief Commoner Michael Welbank was a most convivial guide whose obvious delight in his subject matter carried us along with him.

Before detailing the three Estates – the Bridge House Estate, City Fund and City’s Cash – and the use to which their incomes are put, Mr Welbank gave us a brief history lesson.

There is no surviving record of a charter first establishing the Corporation as a legal body, but the City is regarded as incorporated by prescription. Around 1189, the City gained the right to have its own mayor, later being advanced to the degree and style of Lord Mayor of London.

The origins of what we now know as the City of London were lost in the midst of time. London was a centre of trade in Saxon times long before the Normans tried unsuccessfully to quell the citizens. William I wanted the City and its wealth generating prowess, and in 1067 he granted it a charter. It read “William King greets William the Bishop and Geoffrey the Portreeve and all the citizens in London, French and English, in friendly fashion; and I inform you that it is my will that your laws and customs be preserved as they were in King Edward’s day, that every son shall be his father’s heir after his father’s death; and that I will not that any man do wrong to you. God yield you“. The City was allowed to continue as it had done before the Conquest.

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