EVENT REVIEW: Resilient City: Planning London’s Infrastructure

Over 100 delegates filled the NLA in London on Wednesday 3rd September to hear from town planners working on some of London’s largest infrastructure projects and growth initiatives. Part of the RTPI London Centenary series, the seminar provided opportunity to consider how infrastructure has shaped London in the past and will do so in the future, given the long timescales of major projects and the strategic frameworks within which they sit. 

Paul Holloway from TfL set out a compelling case for Crossrail 2 and other future investment in London’s transport network, describing how London’s population is forecast to grow to 11m by 2050. Even with Crossrail 2 there will be more than four passengers per square metre on parts of London’s rail network by 2031 – a sobering statistic for commuters. The so-called Chelsea-Hackney line has been a prospect since 1974, and planning applications within the safeguarded corridor have been referred to TfL planners since 1991. There are two options for the railway line: ‘metro’ and ‘regional’, and a second round of consultation this year has sought opinions on focused questions such as the route and stations in the Hackney/ Haringey Area and in Chelsea. Costs are currently estimated at £12-20bn and a study due to report in October will steer the finance options for Crossrail 2 including the proportion to be paid by the tax-payer, with next year’s comprehensive spending review a key milestone in terms of government’s commitment to funding. 2015 will also see the start of work on the detailed design, business case and environmental statement.

Hector Pearson, Planning Policy Manager for National Grid Plc, provided fascinating insights into both the strategic framework and every-day issues related to planning London’s electricity supply. Future energy ‘scenarios’ for the UK reflect increasing demand, challenging carbon and pollution reduction targets, and a changing geography with energy generation shifting towards offshore wind, nuclear power and other technologies located in coastal areas. Recent National Grid Plc investments include the London Power Tunnels Project, a seven-year, £1bn project to ‘rewire London’ and provide an energy superhighway comprising 10 new transmission circuits by 2018. National Grid’s route to planning is typically through the Planning Inspectorate, though Local Planning Authorities are also key to their work (including disposal of 400 acres of surplus land across London with potential for 12,500 homes).

Steve Dennington described how the infrastructure required to cater for growth in Croydon’s residential and working population in the next 20 years is core to the work of the Plan Making team which he leads. The Borough’s portfolio of strategic planning documents includes the adopted Local Plan, the Infrastructure Delivery Plan, the CIL schedule, and – relating to Croydon Town Centre which is the Borough’s major growth area – a series of masterplans and the Mayor of London’s Opportunity Area Planning Framework. As detailed in the OAPF Delivery Infrastructure Funding Study, there are a variety of potential sources for infrastructure investment but there are difficult decisions to be made regarding priorities. Steve described recent successful investments including the Connected Croydon programme which has addressed some of the challenges around connectivity and the public realm, park improvements and school expansions. He illustrated the importance of joint-working with partners such as TfL and the GLA, as well as infrastructure providers and businesses; and also emphasised the fundamental need for corporate buy-in to the growth agenda if ambitious plans are to translate into delivery.

Martin Herbert, Technical Director at URS, discussed the town planning elements of numerous major London infrastructure projects that URS has provided technical advisory services for. The Thames Tideway Tunnel project and Bank Station Capacity Upgrade will largely take place underground, while the Emirates Airline lifts passengers above London’s crowded streets and over the River Thames. All however are extremely complex projects with a high profile and tight deadlines. Challenges include determining the planning strategy and subsequent management and programming of sometimes multiple consenting regimes, as well as issues around heritage, townscape, transport and amenity. Martin felt that despite a number of improvements to consenting procedures, it is still challenging to guide major infrastructure schemes through the planning system. A huge volume of assessment work and documentation is required (as evidenced by his photograph of the Thames Tideway Tunnel DCO application that filled a room full of files).

As well as running through parts of London, HS2 will change London’s relationship with the rest of Britain: eight of the largest cities will be better connected and two thirds of residents in Northern England will be within two hours’ journey time of London. Marion Hutchin (HS2 Town Planning Manager) described the planning regime for HS2, which has been designed with lessons learned from previous projects such as Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in mind. The HS2 bill, which is currently passing through parliament, will grant planning permission for the HS2 works subject to the condition that certain approvals are obtained for certain matters. The planning regime (Schedule 16 of the bill) then establishes the approvals process which is somewhat different from the ‘normal’ planning process.

Engagement on the design of HS2 is taking place through a series of forums and channels. Peter Gilfedder (HS2 London Planning Manager) described how through the planning system HS2 is collaborating with Local Authorities along the route to maximise the benefits and minimise adverse impacts of the scheme. An AAP for the Euston Area has been prepared with Camden Council, the GLA and TfL; this underpinned a statement of common ground agreed between the parties for the HS2 examination. At Old Oak Common, a major new transport interchange will create capacity for a potential 19,000 new homes and 90,000 jobs. Here, the Old Oak Vision has been prepared by London Boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Brent and Ealing, the GLA and TfL, with technical input from HS2 Ltd. This will form a precursor to an OAPF and therefore the planning policy framework for development in the area, with a Mayoral Development Corporation likely to be established.

After the five speakers shared their experiences, there was an opportunity for discussion during a Q&A, followed by further lively debate during a drinks reception. URS was proud to sponsor the event and would like to thank the NLA and RTPI London for a stimulating and enjoyable evening.

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