The Mayor’s Outer London Commission: Report

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Figure: 3.3: Office based employment 2007

Source: Ramidus, Roger Tym & Partners op cit (ABI 2008)

3.26 It was tempting to use Canary Wharf as an exemplar of a successful London ‘super-hub’. Early phases of development there provided capacity for some 50,000 workers which have now grown to more than 90,000, with development capacity to exceed 200,000 jobs. As with some of the other models, this development required substantial public subsidy from a range of sources, including very significant rail infrastructure. Thus, from this perspective, the scale of the ‘super-hub’ concept outlined above does not appear immodest. However, it is misleading because Canary Wharf serves a very different market from that which might be attracted to outer London. Historic prime rents there have been in the order of £40 sq ft i.e. roughly the same as central London’s ‘Mid Town’, not far above those sometimes achieved in parts of Hammersmith but well above those in the Outer Metropolitan Area which serves a market more analogous to that which might be created in outer London.

3.27 These of course are not wholly valid comparators, not least because much of the projected employment growth in outer London is likely to be essentially ‘low value added’ while the new exogenous growth required for a ‘super-hub’ would represent a ‘step change’ to a new ‘high value added’ type necessary to justify the development investment. Nor do they address concerns as to the balance of probabilities of outer London attracting such exogenous employment on this scale, or recognize differences in the markets served by other office locations. However, they do provide a context for understanding what a ‘super-hub’ might entail, and, not least in light of other evidence submitted to the Commission, beg questions as to the realism of predicating a major change in London Plan policy on the basis of such development. While this testing of the ‘super-hub’ concept did not lead to its endorsement, it did provide useful lessons for the wider work of Commission.

3.28 We also considered whether substantial planned extensions of existing urban areas, perhaps based on release of Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land, would be a viable way forward. We came to the conclusion that this would be unnecessary and wasteful in terms of the use of land and existing infrastructure. There is very considerable capacity for development and a good deal of “sunk” investment in buildings and infrastructure within the existing urban envelope. There is not, therefore, the justification for large-scale release for development of land which we accept is extremely important for a range of policy reasons and to quality of life.

3.29 Informed by the Survey results showing that while 60 per cent of outer London’s employment is concentrated in its main town centres, 40 per cent is more dispersed, the Commission instead came to the conclusion that a more clearly nuanced approach would be more constructive – one that made clear that it was based on smaller nodes or clusters of activities of greater than sub-regional importance which could be developed either by building on existing strengths or the capacity to attract new activities not found elsewhere, and which recognised the potential of a wider range of places. This was the origin of the “strategic outer London development centre” which we propose in this report.

Table 3.3: Potential locations for ‘strategic outer London development centres’ and their strategic functions

3.30 The London Plan should draw on this list, and our work more generally, to identify specific locations in outer London with specialist strengths, existing (“endogenous”) or potential (“exogenous”). Other centres could be added as necessary (the Commission’s table is not intended to be exhaustive or preclude other configurations). We hope to see a commitment to developing these and other centres, with a focus on both the business environment and the public realm. This should include ways of attracting investment for infrastructure, and measures to help Londoners to access employment.

3.31 To avoid any misunderstanding, recommendations for outer London development centres are intended to mean existing town centres and other centres of growth, and not the 4 ‘growth’ or ‘super’ hubs originally envisaged. The meaning has broadened and, could include different classifications, including relatively small district and neighbourhood centres as well as non- town centre locations such as Strategic Industrial Locations identified in the London Plan. The planning guidance and proposals would, of course, need to be adapted for different classifications as appropriate.

Making the most of existing places

3.32 Considerable attention has been given to new kinds of places that could be embodied in spatial policy. Many of those we spoke to quite rightly pointed to the need to make the most of existing spatial structures identified in the London plan and elsewhere, and particularly town centres. We strongly agree with these points. Any new spatial designations should complement and not replace or endanger the success of existing places and centres. We briefly consider some of the key spatial designations relevant to outer London, and flag their potential for both kind of economic growth we identified earlier.

Town centres

3.33 Though outer London’s larger town centres already support 60 per cent of its employment there are other reasons why the draft replacement London Plan should identify them as the most important spatial designation outside the Central Activities Zone to provide the main foci for commercial development, new retail and housing. We support the development of London’s town centres to provide a constellation of the most important business locations beyond the centre, providing the basis for transport and other linkages binding outer London together and providing a source of future strength. Doing this means ensuring that all of those concerned with particular centres work together to ensure each provides a competitive choice of goods and services, that they are accessible increasingly by sustainable modes of transport, that each contains a range of locations suitable to support growth and development and that barriers to development are addressed.

Figure 3.4: London’s Town Centre Network

3.34 There is also a need for targeted regeneration action coordinated by all the agencies involved, including those involved in site assembly and making better use of under-developed town centre sites. We believe that increasing the number and density of housing in town centres is increasingly important to ensuring their success, and this needs to be a particular regeneration objective. Consideration should be given to addressing the needs of groups and individuals who may particularly enjoy the ‘buzz’ of town centres such as students, or some types of smaller households, perhaps even including some older people. Area Action Plans as part of borough LDFs will be an important part of this process. These can provide a framework for more specific work to improve the public realm of streets and spaces, possibly as part of initiatives to enhance civic pride and quality of life such as local variants of the London Festival of Architecture.

Opportunity and Intensification Areas

These are London Plan designations:

3.35 Opportunity Areas are London’s principal opportunities for accommodating large-scale development to provide substantial numbers of new employment and housing (typically more than 5,000 jobs and/or 2,500 homes) with a mixed and intensive use of land and assisted by good public transport accessibility.

Intensification Areas are places with significant potential for increases in residential, employment and other uses through development of sites at higher densities with more mixed and intensive use but at a level below that which can be achieved in Opportunity Areas.

Figure 3.5: Opportunity and Intensification Areas

3.36 We support the principles behind these designations, which we note have stood the test of time since the first publication of the London Plan. We also support the identification of new areas of these kinds in outer London. However, based on what we were told we do think there is a need for greater coordination of investment in them by the Homes and Communities Agency, the London Development Agency and other organisations. There is also a need to improve their social and environmental infrastructures to help establish and sustain their attractiveness as places to live and work.

Industrial land/clusters

3.37 It is important that London retains and then makes the most of the land resources it has for industrial purposes in order to secure the capital’s capacity to accommodate activities that are relatively low value, but which play an essential part in maintaining the city’s metabolism – manufacturing and maintenance, waste management and recycling, wholesale and logistics and the range of support activities a service economy relies upon. These sectors are often important to outer London’s economy and to providing a range of employment opportunities there.

The debate about these places all too often begins and ends with the question of quantity; we believe that more attention should be given to ways of improving their quality. In particular, there is a need to look at their physical accessibility, both for workers and for freight.

Figure 3.6: Distribution of industrial land within and outside Strategic Industrial Locations in London

Growth and coordination corridors

3.38 The London Plan recognises two nationally-designated growth corridors (the Thames Gateway and the London-Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough Corridor) and three corridors connecting London with the wider city region (the Western Wedge, Wandle Valley and London-Luton-Bedford corridor). We agree with those who suggested to us that the full potential of these corridors has not been realised. There is clearly a need for more active work and coordination by authorities on either side of the Greater London boundary on a range of issues, but perhaps particularly on transport. Delivering this means putting practical joint planning arrangements in place for each corridor, and focussing on the opportunities providing the most potential – the nodes within each of the corridors, rather than the spaces between. The West London Partnership provided a particularly illuminating illustration of how this might be approached in refining the ‘Western Wedge’ concept.

Figure 3.7: London’s growth corridors

Source: GLA

London’s sub-regions

3.39 The draft replacement London Plan sets out a new sub-regional structure and a more flexible approach to sub-regional working which enables the formation of partnerships across borough boundaries according to the nature of the issue under consideration.

Figure 3.8: London’s sub- regions

3.40 We welcome the approach taken to sub regional coordination in the draft Plan. It will allow the sound foundation of work carried out by established sub-regional partnerships to be built upon and developed, providing a valuable link between the London-wide and the local. This could be taken further by looking at ways in which working at a sub-regional level can add value in delivering services and ensuring the kind of coordinated, targeted regeneration activity we have identified as being essential.

Regional/national/international linkages

3.41 The London Plan rightly makes much of London’s place as part of Europe’s urban framework and the United Kingdom’s network of core cities. We have had to be mindful of this wider context in considering our recommendations and to the contribution that policies on this wider scale will have for outer London. For example, there is the scope for maximising the benefits from national transport infrastructure investment like High Speed Rail. Access to international transport links is an important factor in businesses’ locational decisions, and airports will remain an important economic driver in outer London (particularly perhaps in west and south London – see Figure 3.7).

3.42 Addressing these and similar issues in ways that support growth while not putting quality of life, environmental and other objectives at risk requires close working by all the agencies concerned at strategic and local level, within London and across regional boundaries. This reinforces the need to develop arrangements for this kind of joint work mentioned earlier.

Cultural quarters and areas

3.43 Outer London already has a range of high quality leisure, arts, culture and tourism facilities. We believe there is considerable scope to build on this, both to make the most of what already exists, and to identify the opportunities for new facilities. In doing so, we have noted that most of the funding for cultural facilities and activities goes to central London – even though one third of the approximately 3,500 cultural facilities in the capital are in outer London. There is clearly a case for funding bodies to rethink this.

Figure 3.9: London’s cultural facilities

Source: Audiences London

3.44 We believe there are things that should be done more locally and immediately to make the most of these sectors in outer London. First, there is a need for more effective marketing of the area’s cultural assets, particularly where these fall within identifiable clusters. This may mean joint marketing efforts by groups of authorities or agencies on a cross-boundary basis.

3.45 There is scope for taking a more proactive approach to management of areas of cultural importance, and we commend the concept of “cultural quarters” – places able to accommodate new arts, cultural and leisure activities and which can be managed so they contribute more effectively to regeneration – identified in the London Plan. This could be used as the basis for exploring the potential for very large scale commercial leisure facilities able to provide a regional, national or international scale offer (as has been done at Wembley, or at North Greenwich with the 02 Centre). At the other end of the scale, consideration could be given to rejuvenation of medium-sized theatres and other facilities.

3.46 Allied to this is the need for effective management of the night time economy, which can on the one hand help support the vitality of town centres, but can also make them unpleasant places to be. This means looking at ways of broadening the range of night-time activities and linking them to cultural facilities and other leisure uses, as well as ensuring effective cross-agency working.

Mixed use development

3.47 The Commission noted that mixed use development can play an important part in:

• shaping places;

• securing a more efficient and sustainable use of outer London’s scarce stock of development capacity;

• enabling different land uses to be accommodated on the same site or in the same neighbourhood; and

• reducing the need to travel between different activities (such as living and working or shopping and healthcare).

3.48 However, if promoted simply as a blanket ‘good thing’, it can also raise tensions with other planning objectives, not least when it is used as a ‘back-door’ to replacing lower value but still functionally important activities hitherto protected by the planning system. Its application must be tailored to local circumstances.

3.49 The London Plan already provides support for mixed use development in different types of location: some policies promote and manage mixed use development in particular areas (2A.5 Opportunity Areas, 2A.6 Intensification Areas, 2A.8 Town Centres, 2A.9 The Suburbs, 5G.3 CAZ) and some in relation to particular uses (3A.2 housing targets, 3A.10 affordable housing, 3B.3 offices, 2A.10 and 3B.4 industry). Others support it generically (notably 2A.1 sustainability criteria and 4B.1 design principles for a compact city – see below).
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