London Plan: powerful critique, alternatives

Debates, discussions and solid work are building up as part of the consulltation process on Boris Johnson’s ‘Draft Replacement London Plan’ with a small but excellent group of UCL students working to support Just Space network of community and voluntary groups.  Strong and rapidly-developing set of critiques at http://ucljustspace.wordpress.co The 22 strong  submissions by groups in Just Space which came out of all that can be seen at http://justspace2010.wordpress.com

In December there was a seminar at LSE on the London Plan.  The main presentations are here.  In the mean time this is what I contributed.

Peter Marcuse, here in October said….
1. We all have to make compromises but get your critical analysis right first and then make the compromises. 2. Keep them separate.How are we going to change the orthodoxy? It can only be by an alliance of the deprived and the disappointed. He looked round the room at his university audience – more disappointed than deprived.

This neo-liberal period has been a disaster for low- and middle-income people in London who saw their real incomes fall while wealth accumulated upwards, partly at their expense, and the quality and security of jobs worsened dramatically.

Now, the £ 850 bn the UK has spent on bailing out the banks is going to be recouped from all of us. Thus the social wage will be savagely cut, adding insult to injury for a great majority of the population. There will also be direct and indirect job losses as the negative multiplier effects work through. It has cost us about £14,000 per capita to play host to these banks. London’s economy was cushioned from early impacts by its low reliance on manufacture compared with some other regions (as Ian and other pointed out) but we are very dependent on public spending – current and capital.
Talking about the London Plan in that context feels a bit like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But I don’t think it is: it’s worth taking every opportunity to open people’s eyes to what has been happening and to explore alternatives. The urgency of the global warming issues further helps create an atmosphere in which people want to think about a future different from the past.

I’ll concentrate on a few topics, leaving Duncan to do housing, and drawing on the very rich discussions we have been having in the Just Space network of community groups and NGOs. http://ucljustspace.wordpress.com

1. All versions of the LP have aimed for growth in GDP / GVA and a lot of the challenges can be focussed through a re-think of this desideratum:

It omits environmental costs and other externalities

It ignores voluntary work and unpaid domestic labour

It under-values the output of most public service work

It shows illusory growth where we just pay more for the same (Fred Hirsch)

It over-values the work of bankers… (ref GLAE WP23 attempts to massage upwards the productivity estimates for ‘financial intermediation’ to boost the Crossrail CBA. That seems to be the only work on how GVA is measured!)

2 If we are serious about poverty we need to target the non-sexy sectors in which low pay is the norm and look for ways to raise productivity there, and thus wages, support those firms and public+private services, especially the ones which offer entry-level jobs to those without much qualification. Retain and encourage existing enterprises just as much as we seek inward investment.

3  Overturn the Plan’s obsession with centres as the places where everything has to happen. It’s good for real estate values perhaps but it’s very old fashioned. The “lifetime neighbourhoods” concept could come to our aid here. It calls for us all to have, within walking distance of home, a set of basic facilities – shop, post office or somewhere to collect internet and mail-order parcels, a chemist, and other services. If activities generate a lot of movement they need to be on public transport routes but they don’t have to be in ‘centres’. There are no agglomeration economies to be had in car repairs or care homes or builders merchants or primary schools….

4. Seriously reverse the almost-open-ended incentives for residential densification. It has surely contributed to raising developer and landowner expectations and thus jacking up residential land values – displacing everything else.

Michaael Edwards (http://michaeledwards.org.uk)

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Author: Ed

Editor

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