London Assembly – Up and Out (not or) – But its Alternative to Out (Loss of Green Belt) is not Realistic

London Assembly

  • London could be as dense as Bangkok, Osaka and Rio de Janiero by 2041.[1]

  • London is projected to grow by a million over the coming ten years and a further 500,000 in the decade after that.[2]

  • Between 49,000 and 62,000 homes a year are needed – but there is currently only space for 42,000 homes to be built annually. [3]

The London Assembly Planning Committee has today warned that the next Mayor must start planning for London’s future from the day they collect the keys to City Hall.

‘Up or Out: A false choice. Options for London’s growth’ outlines a menu of options for accommodating London’s growth. It considers approaches such as increasing the density of some parts of suburbs, regenerating estates, and building new and expanded towns outside London’s boundaries.

It also explores different – but complementary – approaches for meeting this growth:

  • Up – are more skyscrapers and modern towers set to define our skyline?
  • Out – can we build to a higher density in outer London while preserving our green spaces?

 

Nicky Gavron AM, Chair of the London Assembly Planning Committee, said:

“Now is the time to start planning for London in the 2020s and 2030s The big question is: how should London grow – and in which direction?

The current trajectory has been new and expanded towns within London. This report sets out a series of options – some of which support that approach, others which take it in a new direction. We do not endorse all of the ideas we considered, but nothing was off the table.

These are tough decisions. Whoever wins the Mayoralty, Londoners will expect leadership to make sure the capital doesn’t stand still.  We need bold new ideas to accommodate our growing population in a way that is sustainable and improves quality of life.

This pressing issue should be at the very top of the next Mayor’s inbox. Inaction is not an option.” 

The report title usefully suggests that this is a false dichotomy in that some combination of both  will be required to meet needs.  However the report itself suggests a false dichotomy in suggesting that the tower block option is likely to be in the form of  very tall buildings only affordable to the rich and that higher density forms can be achieved.  in more traditional 4-5 storey street forms.  This is a false choice that only occurs in cities which place a clamp on storey heights and provide  a limited range of outlets – which then because of their scarcity become only affordable to the very rich.  If we look internationally at housing typologies where the majority of construction  in major cities is in the form of family apartments greater than 4-5 storeys – examples being Turkey, China, Singapore, Vancouver – then we find the typical typology is a 12-20 storey apartment of family housing, more often to not occupied by local middle income households rather than the super rich (Vancouver being the exception).  The design of this area may be monotonous (though not inevitably so) but they do show that cities can grow up and out to high densities achieving the ‘compact city’ form which was the mainspring behind the London Plan bit which always delivered too few houses.

If those arguing for no London Green Belt release are to present a serious option this would only be practical if it involved redevelopment of whole SqKm of London – now mostly in single ownership – to 12-20 storeys – with the new transport infrastructure to support it.  An area such as Abbey Wood, Thamesmead, Erith, linked to the redevelopment of London City Airport, Silvertown, Beckton, Barking reach and South Dagenham.   That’s an area of about 50 Sqkm sufficient to meet all of London’s housing needs over 50 years.   Smaller parts of the Lea Valley also offer similar potential. The mostly tiny scatted council estates outside the Thames East London area just arn’t large enough to offer a serious alternative that can meet the necessary scale.

Those arguing against ‘Out’ and to maintain current Green Belt boundaries need either to argue for such a programme or for a major programme of Garden Cities outside the Green Belt.  20 years of London Plans have failed – they have set out a ‘nice’ Compact City vision that can only deliver around half to 2/3rds the housing London needs.  London now needs to get serious about the options.

Pragmatically because both options are so hard to deliver it will need both – and have such long lead in times that some limited inn edge of Metropolitan Green Belt – which many boroughs are reviewing anyway – will be needed to provide some temporary relief until the big smart growth options come on board.

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