A friend came to visit last weekend and, as we set off on a walk along the Thames towpath from Mortlake, SW London, she asked what was happening with the much delayed redevelopment of the Stag Brewery, whose majestic chimneys loomed over the landscape.
“Not much” I answered, citing the planning limbo that the proposals are currently in – and then started to unleash a litany of grievances against the developer, local council and government with respect to this site and its vast potential to improve life for local residents.
“So what would you like to happen? my friend challenged.
And it struck me that answering this question is an appropriate way to end the year and move into the next, as it invites both reflection on some key developments in planning, health and politics during 2023, and acknowledgement of opportunities to implement them in 2024. Better to stay positive and drink from a glass half full.
Last July, after the London Borough of Richmond planning committee approved the second application for the redevelopment of the former Stag Brewery in Mortlake, I reflected on the saga of this site’s regeneration as a planning test for our time. Housing need, open space, transport, health, affordability, heritage, protected land – all underpin the challenges and opportunities of the site. All have been hotly debated over the last year across the country, and in some cases, considerable progress has been made.
At the moment we have an opportunity to build on this progress, as the site is once again in limbo – or as a local community group describes it, Groundhog Day has arrived in Mortlake.
So here’s a list of how all stakeholders in the planning application for the Stag Brewery might seize opportunities created during 2023 to deliver a regeneration scheme that reflects the needs and aspirations of local residents and all Londoners.
1. Embrace new standards, templates and approaches to community engagement that are developing and being implemented across London and the country. The recently published “Code of Practice to transform Community Engagement” from the Quality of Life Foundation addresses inadequate and inconsistent community engagement in planning and development processes across the UK. It’s based on the findings of a 2-year research project delivered in collaboration with the universities of Reading, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Ulster. Last month, The GLA led a comprehensive investigation into community engagement practices last month through its oversight committee, where best practice was shared.
2. Build on evidence on links between homes, places and health. Use this to foster partnerships with the Integrated Care Boards that now deliver NHS services and whose mission is to partner with local communities. Learn to use health terminology to make this easier and engage local residents in improving their health. Help residents to understand the health impacts of new homes and places through a rethought, redesigned Health Impact Assessment.
3. Recognise the importance of integrating residents of all ages in regeneration schemes and seize opportunities for older people seeking to downsize or share living arrangements with younger generations.
4. Aim for Mortlake to be a Blue Zone as an outcome of the regeneration
5. Identify the low hanging fruit in the community that will bring quick and easy benefit to residents and build support and enthusiasm for the regeneration scheme.
7. Take inspiration from Earls Court as a local example of community-led regeneration. Copy some of its initiatives to build local support and trust - like these:
· establish a community centre on the site for locals to learn and contribute to the project
· Support local artists with exhibition space and decoration of hoardings
· partner with river Thames organisations on cleanup and education projects
· partner with local ICB to assess local health needs and set up a community health committee
8. And finally, bringing us fully up to date, comply with the revised National Planning Policy Framework released this week on its recommendations to protect “existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields”; seek Community led development; respect and protect heritage assets such as the Arcadian Thames; maintain and encourage local biodiversity; demonstrate understanding of flood risks and their mitigation.
The evidence is building on what constitutes a healthy, thriving place in the 21st century, and how private developers can deliver these in partnership with local councils, health authorities and community groups. I hope we can find a way to embrace this evidence in 2024 at the Stag Brewery and in all communities undergoing regeneration.
So here’s to a happy Christmas and new year – with a metaphorical clink of glasses half full.
Listen to Locals
21 December 2023