As part of the International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP) Centenary World Congress a day-long session was held at UCL to examine London’s future growth, fittingly entitled topic of “Developing London: Up or Out?”. The event was hosted by a cross-industry panel of experts; Jonathan Manns (Associate Director, Colliers International), Colin Wilson (Strategic Planning Manager, Greater London Authority) and Lisa O’Donnell (Head of Spatial & Environmental Planning, Westminster City Council). Each reflected on the challenges and route forward.
Jonathan Manns pressed forward the point that “as a global city, the development potential of property is intimately linked to international political and currency fluctuations”. This, he suggested, requires “decision-making which fully allows for matters of funding, phasing and viability in addition to other economic, social and environmental considerations.” He concluded that three key elements were necessary; these being (1) Vision – there is a need to plan with aspiration and conviction, (2) Proactivity – there is a need to drive change rather than respond to it, and (3) Flexibility – there is a need for a system which can accommodate change to deliver locally in a global marketplace.
Colin Wilson saw London’s challenges and opportunities as crystallised in major growth areas, such as Old Oak Common. This perspective led him to stress that “we’re not running out of space, the issue is mainly around where it is”, something which inevitably varies across the city. He also reflected on the need for a joined-up and cooperative approach, citing the example that “Heathrow is an important job driver in West London, but we’re in the odd position where we’re investing heavily in new rail improvements at the same time as the Mayor is lobbying to close it”.
For the City of Westminster at least, Lisa O’Donnell stressed that “the key is in trying to focus on the local”. This presents serious concerns about undue reliance on Central London delivery, but also begs Borough-specific questions such as “how do we meet housing need when delivery is driven in large part by the ‘buy to leave’ market?”(something which O’Donnell views as posing the very real risk that “there’ll be a dead zone at the heart of London, predominantly led by international investors”). Clearly, local circumstance will also be key to accommodating future growth.
Ultimately, the answer to whether we built either “up” or “out” is perhaps less relevant than how to balance wider need and demand issues against practical realities. Applying Manns’s broad criteria will be crucial to addressing this. There is a clear need for Vision, Proactivity and Flexibility; including the need to accept and support change. Whilst neither Manns nor Wilson or O’Donnell proffered an answer, it is clear that there are people out there prepared to lead the debate and establish a cross-industry approach to shaping London’s future.