RTPI London launch To 2020 and Beyond Challenges and Priorities for the next Mayor of London with planning legend

2016 will be an important year for the capital with a new Mayor being elected. A new London Plan and Mayor’s Transport Strategy will be produced; this will have repercussions to 2020 and beyond. RTPI London has therefore launched a series which will discuss and debate key challenges and priorities that the next Mayor will need to consider in planning: ‘To 2020 and Beyond’.

The pre-election series was launched by the esteemed architect-planner, Sir Terry Farrell and RTPI President Janet Askew at one of London’s most important built environment venues, The Building Centre. Former RTPI London Chair Tom Venables introduced the event. The 2016-2020 Mayoral term will end on 7 May 2020, which happens to be the same date as the next UK general election.

Incoming RTPI London Chair Andrew Dorrian provided some insight into the London Mayoral election membership survey. 82% of respondents identified housing as a priority, while 65% believe that the Mayor of London needs greater powers. This information, plus the discourses emerging from the Mayoral Series, will feed into the RTPI’s list of planning asks to the Mayoral candidates. Full details of the survey will be published shortly.

Describing the Mayoral Series as “a brilliant idea”, Janet Askew explained how important it is for the RTPI to engage with the Mayoral process. London is a magnificent city and planning has helped to deliver this; we are lucky with our planning system, which has kept the city relatively compact. London’s diversity (>300 languages spoken) is one of its strengths; however, disparity between wealth and poverty will ruin the city. Planning is under attack and a shortage of planners in the London boroughs will make it very hard to deliver a high-quality built environment.

Sir Terry Farrell then took to the stage. Stating a “very, very strong” belief in proactive planning, he set out seven key recommendations for planning in London:

  1. London to adopt the recommendations of the Farrell Review. The built environment has been represented by a bewildering array of Government departments over the past 50 years; this is in stark contrast to the consistent existence of the Home Office, Foreign Office and Treasury.
  2. Greater intensification: This, if well designed, leads to high quality landscape and conservation. The regeneration of riverside industrial sites with the creation of new riverside paths is an example of this.
  3. Plan the Thames as a key part of London: At present (particularly in east London) the river is often perceived as a barrier; crossing it is a major undertaking. Greater used of low-level lifting bridges (as proposed by Farrells for Deptford/Greenwich/Isle of Dogs) would allow people to cross the river spontaneously, integrating it into their daily lives.
  4. Placemaking along major road infrastructure: Many of London’s major roads also have a strong sense of place. Roads need to be tamed and brought into the placemaking process, not perceived in isolation. Car ownership in London has fallen by 1/3 in the last decade; this trend needs to continue.
  5. Railway stations need to be planned as new town centres; they are well-connected, well-placed and (inherently) have exceptionally high footfall. Liverpool Street is probably the best example of this in London; similar developments are underway at Waterloo and Victoria.
  6. The South Bank should develop into London’s third city centre: A historical quirk in the 1800s led to the riverside being cut off by railway lines from the rest of South London, allowing it to develop its own character, similar to central London. This process has accelerated in the past 15 years and needs to continue. Farrell showed a concept whereby the Thames-side District and Circle Line stations (Wesminster, Embankment, Temple, Blackfriars, etc) were each linked to the South Bank by travelators under the Thames.
  7. Plan airports as part of city-making: Gatiwck Airport offers a particularly significant opportunity for regeneration, linking metropolitan and coastal growth (London and Brighton) with regeneration and growth throughout Sussex.

This (excellent) presentation provoked a lot of questions for Sir Terry, in turn leading to further insight. It is vital for planners to become part of the proactive planning system and think about what is good for London (as opposed to getting bogged down in policies). Plans cannot happen by consultation alone; there has to be a respect for big ideas. All of the above will be considered by RTPI London when shaping their Mayoral Asks.

Planners often get frustrated with plans that are made and never implemented. How do we get plans discussed and delivered? We aggravate and agitate. Farrells has done this successively, most notably along Marylebone/Euston Road. By developing a good idea and sticking to it, plans can be delivered.

There is a lot to be gained from appealing to the media; there is an unimaginable number of outlets and a visionary idea can quickly gain traction (Daniel Raven-Ellison’s London National Park City is a good example). Successful plan-making has to involve challenges to the prevailing status quo, while seeking consistently to deliver a better city.

Following Q&A, we continued the discussion over refreshments. There was a strong consensus that this was a successful and thought-provoking launch event and we are all looking forward to the subsequent events in the RTPI London Mayoral Series.

In December RTPI London will be considering the relationship between planning and health. What will the main challenges and priorities are to 202 and beyond?

For more of the debate from the event see #to2020andbeyond on Twitter.

The rest of the series will consider housing, transport, strategic planning and green belt and London’s economy and devolution.

RTPI London’s partners for the Mayoral Series are ING, New London Architecture and Transport for London. We are very thankful to our partners for their support around this series.

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