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New thinking on planning London’s future

Just in time for the local elections next month, two community-led and deeply researched reports have been published offering new approaches to planning London’s future. If you do nothing else with this blog, please pass it on to your local candidates.

The reports are welcome for similar reasons - both are informed by local community groups across the capital, and both broaden their approach to planning by introducing and integrating wider challenges of our time – including maintaining health & wellbeing, accommodating climate change and building social capital in our communities.

The London Assembly’s report “Open Planning? Community engagement and transparency when the Mayor calls in planning applications” is refreshing in both its investigative process and its presentation.

Community groups from across London were invited to City Hall at the end of last year for a session with the London Assembly’s Planning & Regeneration Committee in the Assembly chamber. The discussion that took place was inclusive, wide-ranging and evidenced, and committee members followed up with many participants afterwards to clarify and build more evidence on current practice.

Its report presents a robust summary of practices where local communities have been excluded or disadvantaged in participating in the mayor’s call-in process, and makes eleven challenging and considered recommendations to improve the process. These include

· information on any meetings that take place between the GLA and the applicant should be published

· plain English versions of key documents should be published alongside the original. “This would make the content more accessible for Londoners, whilst maintaining the legal integrity of the original document.”

· Opportunities to support capacity and build capability for community groups should be explored, “so that Londoners are more able to engage with the planning process”

· the practice of allowing substantial amendments to called-in planning applications must be reviewed. There should be a presumption that substantial amendments require a new planning application, unless such amendments can be strongly justified, and clear and transparent guidelines about when such amendments would be permitted, with the same opportunities extended to residents as well as applicants

· The Mayor should explore the possibility of a gentrification impact assessment for London planning applications, looking at impacts on existing communities, including socio-economic and cultural effects on different communities

I was particularly pleased to see the suggested inclusion of a new impact assessment in the mayoral call-in process, and would like to see this opening up wider discussion on improving the measurement of planning impacts on health & wellbeing.

Overall the Committee has used a collective open mind to question the openness of the current mayoral planning system, and its conclusions and recommendations should be taken very seriously.

2. Just Space published its Recovery Plan for London this week, which calls for a radical change of course in London’s planning to become “less a developers’ city, more a city for its people.”

The Plan is based on four themes: 'A caring city'; 'Visibility and influence for all'; 'A city of local neighbourhoods'; 'Priority for climate and nature'. These have been informed by contributions from more than sixty community groups across London, and draw on experiences developed over the course of the pandemic.

Some of the recommendations are truly innovative and challenge popular trends in regeneration – such as a suggestion to develop “Lifelong Neighbourhoods” to be supported by “community hubs and digital platforms” and designed in part through meetups, mapping and walkabouts. This is an interesting challenge to the widely accepted "15 minute city" framework that many placemakers advocate.

The plan addresses health & social care head on through its proposal to “implement place-based community wealth building by creating ‘care hubs’ on the high street, where a whole range of care services are organised in an integrated way within the locality.” As this appears to be the direction of travel for the NHS, we can be hopeful that this concept will be implemented.

Both of these reports provide robust ideas and accessible language for all of us to engage and challenge local candidates in next month’s elections. This time last year Listen to Locals teamed up with Just Space to hold a series of hustings for London’s mayoral and GLA candidates focused on community engagement in planning and led by local community groups. This resulted in a strong consensus on the importance of improving community participation in local planning decisions, and a commitment to support this agenda from the leader of the Assembly and chair of the Planning & Regeneration Committee. Let’s hope that this time next year the messages contained in the GLA report and Just Space plan will have taken root across London.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

April 5th 2022


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