GLA Assembly debates future growth

Planning Committee debating London’s future growth, with guest experts. Discussing a paper which is item 5 in

Webcast supposed to be at tho I can’t make it work. At the end of this post is a letter I just sent to the Chair, Nicky Gavron. Comments welcome

Niky Gavron starts on how we can cope with another million people each decade on present terms.

John Hollis (demographer) stresses that 2011 Census found 1/4 more net international migrants than thought (tho it didn’t explain their status). London had average 90k pa net international migr. After 2007 the established pattern which had given net losses of 70k pa to rest of UK, and that net outflow now seems to be halved. If govt policies to reduce net international migr succeed that will be some relief. Outflow to rest of UK was as low as 30k pa for couple of years, now picked up slightly. Pop 2030 will be over 9m, posssibly 10.  By 2020 around or approaching 9m.  8.2m now. (Note 80k net natural growth at the moment). AM Arbour presses on “illegals”. Hollis says mostly over-stayers. Hollis admits travel survey at borders is poor data. Students a major and durable part. 200k pa gross entry. London the driver of internal migration in the UK and the natural destination of international arrivals.  AM Boff interested in whether we are adequately distributing this prosperity around the UK.

AM Sahota(?) asks about social infrastructure needs. Refers to Duncan Bowie’s calculation on needs – e.g. the extra standards can’t all be met.  Schools, play, etc etc and we either have to drop standards or stack uses on top of each other says Martin Crookston. Where do we put extra 1.25m dwellings? LBTH has managed to squeeze in extra schools; Ealing has been trying hard. Hollis: school age pop growing 25% in 20 years. Sahota: standards??  MC: our standards are already not good; so no scope for lowering standards. He also stressed London’s serious needs for additional water supply and sewerage infrastructure before growth could be accommodated (Thanks Roy Tindle for query on this point.) We could do with lower open space standards though. Dave Lawrence (Roger Tym and Partners) remember the associated jobs and where those can be fitted in.

(Discussion suggesting hh size will just rise to cope. They all avoid so far talking about overcrowding!) Boff: serious overcrowding though in TH.  How can we increase pop density without the misery of overcrowding. MC: hitting limits of compact city” approach? When do conditions become unacceptable? Parts of Newham, Southall, TH…  part of the stock under apaling stress.  Under-occupation?  MC a blip of stunning irrelevance. Note under-occupation is limited in social housing so impact of bedroom tax will be slight.

Sahota: how is the austerity affecting all this? Lawrence: could be more imaginative on physical infras which even  during austerity is feasible e.g. with bond financing, as there are revenue streams like (implied) tolls.  Social infrastructure harder because hard to capture revenue streams. Falk: make the most of what you have, and that means making more use of town centres, especially smaller centres in suburbs where a lot of capacity exists.

Catriona Riddell: big issue of continuing job growth in central London where the rail capacity is a major bottleneck on which there have been no improvement (she is ex-Surrey). Falk stresses that employment in suburbs is mainly NON-retail and sould be grown and expanded. Some jokes about Croydon. AM O’Connell (croydon) stressing need to grow jobs in suburbs. But he is also looking to add a lot of populations to those places. Falk agrees and praises Paris system of concerted action zones (ZAC). Lawrence: no demand for big office blocks in suburbs.

Climate change: NG says we are doomed if we dont take serious action…(O’connells says NO we don’t know). What are the issues? Crookston: present track is a way of coping with growth which is less carbon intensive than most of the alternatives.  Better than scattering growth across the region. Don’t worry too much and focus on other issues. Mayor’s 60% carbon reduction by 20nn – is it realistic?  Falk shocked by how little zero-carbon housing we have. Lawrence can see econ benefits only in retrofit.  CR stresses the different approaches to climate change, recycling, bus services between London and surrounding areas…   Falk: scope for more retirement etc housing in town centres but we may need foreign developers to do it…  and note that reduced energy bills appeal to most people, even if they are not green. (Boff: GLA tories did a report “radically normal” on this.)

Question on research and intelligence needs. Hollis we do need better data, esp on migration. What kind of research? Crookston – need to push harder on housing capacity study, turn over more stones, policy dimension as well as tech measurement aspect. Explore scope for more creative packing of uses. Simmons: pop projections are constrained by housing capacity. Need far more on housing market analysis, esp where there are different markets, e.g. the international one along the Thames and central SW, esp Thames, does not provide homes for Londoners).  Outer London mkts not constrained by boundary but spills into adjoining counties and needs to be studied and understood. Escalation of house prices is excluding large numbers of Londoners…

Boff: in west london we should perhaps be shipping people out to where the housing is more affordable. Falk comments on green belt, Colne Valley for example, was the miserable state of most of the countryside… and scope for a lot of housing devel with good access to countryside, with existing transport … and also Redbridge where Goodmayes taken out of GB. Need different kind of pro-active planning. Should we do research on this?  MC: it should be done by the mayor, not the boroughs. Desperate need for Journey-to-work data from census and/or other sources. Central London becoming more and more dominant for rail commuting, says Simmons, quoting ATOCs. Growth of out-commuting is OK except that most of it is by car.

Katrina – very hard to manage devel of the wider region without any planning strategy… NO good unless you involve the politicians, can’t be just a tech operation.  We MUST have some formal or informal governance structure at the political level…  SERPLAN was good. Simmons and Boff strong on this. Val Shawcross on need for control of regional transport network as the key thing. MS says TfL are trying to increase influence on routes entering London, e.g. from Surrey to gain franchise powers. VC says that Treasury model attaches more value to long commutes while we should be strongly favouring short commutes. VC also points to gross inefficiency of (e.g. supermarket car parks) in many land uses and localities – should do all this before green belt.  Nick Falk in a big push for coridoor growth Stansted, and Crookson on Thames Gateway.

Falk stressing that it’s the recession which is stalling a lot of development and we need to use more green belt…

CR: today’s concept of sustainability much broader than just compact city. Quality of life + … And green belt is very much worth protecting…

Densification of outer suburbs: MS this densification is feasible in town centres, and Croydon’s examples (conversion of Nestlé to flats) but very hard in the great swathes of suburban residential London.  That quality of Life very much treasured.  This year’s AMR (March) shows 80% of recent housing has been flats, mostly 1 and 2 bedroom). What we aren’t getting is family housing, and that’s partly why people move out to find it. Boff: what incentives are there for developers to build more family housing? Falk: it’s a land issue and again in France they do it well. URBED is organising an event on this in June. Good speech.

Niky Gavron: we made a great mistake in keeping to the PSBR stranglehold when everyone else in Europe abandoned it in 1970s. Artificial and unnecessary limit on public spending.

Hollis: GLA should take care to be represented on the plans of OMA authorities which otherwise will CUT their allocations. Inspectors are rejecting local plans in some cases and GLA needs to be there to make its case…  Inspectors are acting without guidance on this. Catriona:  Serious duty-to-cooperate problem for LA’s around London.

Crookston: we lack a story on what the drivers are. Used to be FBS; not so sure now. What are people coming here to do? Need better analysis of what actually happens in the London economy. Otherwise we are just doing trend-based planning. (Good – and could also be a basis for working from scenarios) Simmons good on this.  Need to do this before the Mayor settles down to review the LP.

MC: elstree northolt could be massive.  Falk: Helsinki and Oresund good examples of cities with manage their regional plan relations, even across  national boundaries. Hollis: boroughs should find who is moving in to new homes.

Meeting ends.  NOTHING on displacement / clearances; nothing on equalities.

[Aside: public gallery has 11-17 people of whom 2 are me and Myfanwy Taylor, at least two are support staff to AMs.]

Draft of letter to Nicky Gavron

Dear Nicky

I much enjoyed the discussion you held at the Planning Committee this morning and thought I would send you some instant comments – on which of course it would be a pleasure to expand, either on my own account or through Just Space, whose members would undoubtedly want to contribute.

My immediate comments are as follows:

(1) Broad discussions of this kind are invaluable at this stage before the serious work starts on the next LP. The discussion need to broaden to include wider constituencies.

(2) It was good to hear at least some of the previously-forbidden topics being aired: the green belt, the possibility of slowing growth or distributing it better across the UK, the dangers posed by national policies, the the threat to quality of life posed by the wrong sorts of densification, by lack of social infrastructure, the need for alternative scenarios for external circumstances and for policy options.

(3) On these issues (and others) the Assembly is in a much stronger position to orchestrate and host discussions because the Mayor will always wish to pre-constrain the agenda. I very much hope that the Assembly and/or its committees will maintain this initiative (which does not prevent you asking the Mayor’s team to contribute).

(4) There were some serious omissions: most seriously everything to do with equality / inequalities and all their manifestations. At the very least the debate on the price we pay for growth (on today’s terms) has to cover the expulsion of low and middle-income people from London, and from areas within London. This expulsion operates through various mechanisms: price and rental growth alongside static or falling real incomes, together with the state-assisted expulsion of council estates in the name of “regeneration” which has become a very serious matter indeed. You will recall that Just Space, London Tenants and others persuaded the Panel about this in 2010 but the Mayor refused to follow the Panel’s recommendations fully.  Now we are faced with Heygate, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Carpenters’, Woodberry Down (less severe perhaps), Kidbrooke and doubtless others. It is widely agreed that there is no good evidence on the benefits and costs of “regeneration” and that logitudinal research is needed. All of the mechanisms in this paragraph need to be informed by research, partly through the way the SHMA is specified and partly through long-term tracking of individuals through the London hosuing maze.

(5) Finally it was good that the discussion concluded with the need to examine, in a fine-grained way, what the London economy really consists of and what it could do. I have to say that this need was a major element in research proposals we made to the Mayor’s team (at their invitation) in June 2009. Perhaps with support from the Assembly this work might now be launched.

You can count on our support in these deliberations.  Very best wishes,  Michael Edwards

Author: Editors


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