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London Urban Transformation Commission – Accelerating development for the benefit of Londoners

London Urban Transformation Commission Chairman, Stephen Warrington

Hardly a day goes by without fresh comment on the dire situation surrounding housing in London. Supply growth is weak and new build targets are missed by huge margins. Buying a property for the first time has become unaffordable to all but a minority. Private rents are high. Social housing provision has dwindled and the delivery of affordable homes alongside private-for-sale developments has apparently been limited by viability.

A city has to be liveable in its most fundamental sense, which means offering places to live and work that support a decent lifestyle.  Of course, London’s position as a preeminent cultural, entertainment and commercial hub has, in residents’ minds, long offset downsides, such as relatively expensive housing and congested travel. However, a continued deterioration in the ability of all types of Londoner to live together comfortably could cause a serious loss of talent from London, whether it be waiters or financial analysts, nurses or software engineers, all of whom are critical to London’s ongoing vitality and to the UK economy.

London First’s London Urban Transformation Commission (LUTC) has set itself the task of considering what can be done to improve the situation.  It has taken as a starting point the fact that around one sixth of Greater London’s land area is represented by so-called Opportunity Areas, which are typically large, brownfield, under-utilised sites designated by local authorities as ripe for productive development.  According to the GLA’s London Plan these could provide hundreds of thousands of new homes and employment places. There has been some high-profile progress, such as in Stratford, where the Olympics provided an unmissable target; and in Kings Cross and Nine Elms, which have had slower paths to fruition. Yet overall progress in development is patchy, and huge numbers of home and employment opportunities across London are being left on the table, at a time when the city is desperate for action.

There are many challenges. The aim of the LUTC is to identify ways in which the rate of good, productive development in the interests of Londoners can be accelerated to generate significant social and economic benefit.  The Commission comprises practitioners who know London and it is picking the brains of a wide range of consultees who have immense experience in planning, development, infrastructure, government, finance, urbanism, construction and more.  The LUTC’s hypothesis is that something of a sea change is needed in the way London thinks about these issues.

Historically, London has taken bold steps through various combinations of state and private activity, whether you consider the rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1666, the creation of the West End in the 18th and 19th centuries by the aristocratic landowning estates, the great metropolitan sanitation and transportation works of the mid-Victorian era, the evolution of a suburban idyll post World War I, or the inner city council housing projects after the devastation of World War II. These actions may have had their imperfections, but they had intent and impact.  A comparable, aspirational mindset may be needed now to steward the next era of development to improve London living.

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