Thursday, 7 October 2010

Debate Review - Is London Growing Too Big Too Fast?

The Musing Urbanist attended a debate on Tuesday evening at the British Library as part of the Story of London festival. The talk was part of the Future City lecture series and entitled ‘Is London Growing Too Big Too Fast?’ The debate was chaired by the excellent Austin Williams and panel members included:
  • Peter Bishop (Director of Development at the LDA)

With a title this broad it was unsurprising that the discussion cut across many themes, including: immigration, density, planning, infrastructure and housing. After a few days to digest the event I can add the following musings:

1. There is a world outside London!

I was left more than frustrated by James Heartfield’s blinkered view that housing growth must take place in the South East and for London to keep sprawling out towards Southampton, Southend and Sussex. It would be na├»ve to doubt the economic strengths of the South East region and the global appeal of London, but support for London should not be to the detriment of the rest of the UK. An economic strategy of supporting the city-regions of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would not necessarily harm the capital. It would raise competition, take pressure of London’s infrastructure and allow a mixed national economy. Whilst the regional policy of New Labour did have weaknesses, I can see the benefits of supporting urban areas outside of London and now worry about the current vogue towards localism which could reduce strategic thinking. For me, the major boost will come with High Speed 2, which thankfully had a recent funding commitment from the Coalition Government. But it also shows the requirement for a National Planning Framework, something the RTPI has rightly championed (for once!). A National Planning Framework could foster a network approach to UK urbanism and avoid regional cities suffering in the shadow of London and the South East.

2. Planning’s bad reputation

It became clearly evident in the Q&A session that planning was taking the brunt of most people's frustration. Very few seemed to deny that London needed to grow, but many (including the speakers) felt that the planning system was acting as a barrier. Heartfield put it best when he stated that planning must be the only discipline that sets out a vision for the future then actively does its best to stop this from happening. Putting the strengths and (many) weaknesses of planning to one side, it is obvious that the profession has a serious reputation problem. The public hates it. I've always thought that the general public see planning as embodying the worst aspects of petty Council bureaucracy.....and the debate only reaffirmed this view. Any planning reforms must tackle why the public views the profession in this negative manner. Apparently in some countries planning is seen as a trendy profession! Perhaps a radical break with a system that dates back to 1947 may help the UK and London?!

3. The never-ending Thames Gateway

I won't hark on too much about this here as it will be subject to a forthcoming Musing Urbanist article, but the Thames Gateway beggars belief. The growth of London cannot be discussed without mentioning 'Europe's biggest regeneration project'. Judged as a floodplain by planners but a solution to the country's housing shortage by politicians, the TG stumbles from one shambles to the other. Now the London TG Development Corporation is to be scrapped as part of Eric Pickles' 'bonfire of the quangos'. The TG was meant to be the centrepiece of London's future, but unfortunately it got less than 30 seconds mention in the debate!

1 comment:

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