This year's Society events on planning have been curated by Colin Wilson, Strategic Planning Manager for the GLA (currently on secondment to Southwark Council). On March 6th, London Society members met at the offices of Allies and Morrison to hear him explore the implications of the new London Plan, which will guide metropolitan development over the next 20 years. Jamie Jensen reports.
For a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing London over the next 20 years, the Bankside home of architects Allies and Morrison was a fortuitous location: in the past 20 years, with the addition of the Millennium Bridge and Blackfriars Thameslink station, the revival of Borough Market and the opening of the Tate Modern art museum, the surrounding area has been utterly transformed. Thanks to huge public and private investment, Bankside is in many ways a case study of successful long-term urban regeneration.
Using the story of Bankside as a model for how London can cope with the many issues facing the city today, a generally upbeat tone for the evening was set by Eric Sorenson, London Society trustee and former head of the London Docklands Development Corporation, who vividly described the dour days when the Tate was still a power station, and London as a whole had shrunk from 8.6 million to under 7 million in population. No stranger to strategic planning himself, Eric introduced Colin Wilson by contrasting the relatively dry and jargon-packed 500-plus pages of the new London Plan with Colin's energised efforts on behalf of the Borough of Southwark to develop a long-term vision for the Old Kent Road in anticipation of the forthcoming extension to the London Underground Bakerloo Line.
Touching upon the challenges of coordinating how contemporary London grows and evolves to absorb a predicted population of 11 million by the year 2040, Colin Wilson likened the process, and the competing political and economic pressures involved, to cooking a Christmas turkey: The key, he said, is "Don't overstuff, and don't overcook." Swapping the culinary analogy for city planning, Colin illustrated the complexities involved in this scale of forward thinking by overlaying maps of London's transportation, energy and other infrastructure with graphic depictions of land use and land ownership, building typologies and urban density, along with more sociological indicators of relative wealth and health. The London Plan takes all these dynamics into account, planning for growth "...on the basis of its potential to improve the health and quality of life of all Londoners, to reduce inequalities and to make the city a better place to live, work and visit."
The official comment period for the new London Plan closed earlier this month, and following another year of discussion and consideration the final version is due to be published by the end of 2019. Speaking on the day after the government announced plans to change the National Policy Planning Framework, with the somewhat contradictory aims of increasing home-building while protecting the environment, Colin also touched upon the Green Belt -- a topic he will return to cover more fully at his next London Society talk, on April 10th.