The media does like to over-simplify things and take the negative view. As a strong advocate of wind farms, along with other forms of renewable energy, I was initially hesitant to take up a role with the CPRE London banch. It seems, however, that what many CPRE members actually care about is ‘Quality In My Back Yard' - its not about saying 'no' for the sake of being awkward. Whether we are talking about a local development proposal or large-scale infrastructure projects like High Speed 2, what they would like to see is the right types of development, in the right places and planned for in the right way. This means taking the time to properly involve local groups early in the planning process, recognising and addressing local concerns and needs. It means seeking an outcome which benefits as many people as possible, now and in the long term.
Wind farms in London may still be fairly few and far between, but our urban-based members are increasingly reporting encroachments and proposals to develop on London’s green spaces and green belt, particularly from housing and mixed use developments (see ‘London’s green spaces need us’).
The Mayor of London’s new draft Sustainable Design and Construction Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) focuses on promoting London’s environmental resilience challenges in relation to energy, water, food and other resources. Significantly, the draft SPG calls on all Local Plans to aim for 100% of developments to be delivered on ‘Previously Developed Land’ i.e. brownfield sites. Many London councils do have some policy in place to develop on previously developed land first, before accepting proposals on green open spaces but they are also facing growing pressures to free up ‘cheap’ greenfield sites for meeting urgently required housing as outlined in the London Plan and Mayors' 2020 vision . Part of the reason this is happening is due to market failures in the land asset and housing markets. The incentive remains for land investors and developers to ‘land bank’ and acrue value on brownfield and infill sites, whilst drip-feeding housing contruction to avoid sudden drops in house prices.
The Royal Town Planners Association says these market failures now need active intervention; including by: increasing the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders on so -called 'stalled' development sites; increased transparency of land owernship; and boosting local & central government role in sharing the burden of financial risk to help kick start new developments.
Whilst the market is producing over-priced browfield sites and housing, the full value of open green spaces for Londoners is missed almost entirely. The ‘ecosystem services’ these sites provide do not always generate immediate monetary paybacks but overtime they do produce real direct and indirect benefits; socially, environmentally and economically (see diagram below).
Source: Living London, CPRE London 2013
CPRE London has launched a Campaign for a Liveable London that is looking at London's housing challenge in more depth. This recognises the pressures of new housing on London’s green spaces, and asks the question: how can we provide sufficient housing to meet London’s population growth projections, whilst ensuring it is of good quality, truly affordable and delivers community benefits and quality of life outcomes? We are currently reviewing a set of case studies across the capital to assess what makes them 'good' places to live, and unpack why and how they have been able to achieve this.
We already know that, beyond correcting market distortions, part of the answer lies with the early and ongoing engagement with local groups where developments and regeneration are proposed. This engagement should not be just in terms of consultation, but much more actively in the design, development and maintenance of a site, supporting greater ownership, trust, creativity and arguably more sustainable outcomes.
Some examples where this works are emerging from communities themselves. Architect Kelvin Campbell calls this ‘Massive - Small’, where local responses offer alternative models and approaches for ‘smart’ urban design. In the housing sector this might include examples such as the Community Land Trust project in St Clements Hospital in Mile End, the Vine Housing Coop on Bonnington Square in Vauxhall, or Somerlayton Road - a community-led housing and regeneration project in Brixton. Beyond housing, we see emergent local community enterprises such as in the energy sector, like the Brixton Energy cooperative. In food, we find a wealth of locally-drvien activities, such as Cultivate London who offer apprenticeship training for young people in urban farming on derelict and vacant lots, and Field to Fork Organics, a community-run fruit & veg box scheme who buy fresh organic products from local farmers and community growers and sell them at an affordable price via cafés, schools and independent shops in north-west London.
Typically such programmes are led by amazing individuals who have the energy and vision to do something that directly addresses a need in their local area. So the key question remains: how can developers, planners, local and London-wide policy makers stimulate and support similar local champions and activities, particularly in housing? Field to Fork, Cultivate London and St Clements Hospital have all received some form of formal recognition and support, for example. from the Mayor, the London Food Board and/or their local boroughs. There needs to be much wider provision to stimulate similar local initiatives elsewhere. The new and emerging Neighbourhood Forums may also provide a route for more locally relevant developments and improved liveability outcomes.
Kelvin Campbell describes Massive-Small as a way of opening up an inherently top-down planning system to learn from the local experience and support both resilience and innovation; “Firstly, the needs of the ‘Resilient City’ looks to wider social, economic and environmental issues that good urban design can address and, secondly, the ‘Talented City’ where the need to foster innovation, facilitate enterprise and build social capital demand a more responsive urban fabric that is both resilient, accommodating of change and that we can programme over time”. The Howard De Walden Estate, along Marylebone High Street is an example of a neighbourhood - a place and people - which has successfully adapted to over 300 years of change. Indeed, the history of greater London over the last 2000 years indicates it is a very resilient and adaptive city; surviving fires, marauding Vikings, plagues, war-time bombing and economic downturns. Each time it has re-emerged changed but arguably stronger. At the heart of London's resilience is its inhabitants, hand-in-hand with good leadership. Perhaps it’s time for a bit more trust and mutual respect.
CPRE London will report on the findings of our Liveable London project in spring 2014.
We welcome your views about addressing housing challenge in London via our online survey here: ‘unlocking liveability’.