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Opportunity Knocks: Piecing together London’s Opportunity Areas

Opportunity Areas are one of Mayor Boris Johnson’s flagship schemes. Consisting of 38 brownfield land areas, they are earmarked to supply up to 303,000 new homes and 575,000 new jobs.

As such, they have a vital role to play in meeting London’s urgent housing needs, as well as providing jobs for the capital’s rapidly growing population.

But if they are to deliver this potential, there are some big hurdles that need to be crossed, according to a new report from London First and Terence O’Rourke.

Opportunity Knocks: Piecing together London’s Opportunity Areas, for the first time, analyses progress across all 38 Opportunity Areas, identifying the challenges they face and offering solutions from business leaders who have a wealth of experience in bringing forward development on this scale.

Highlighting a lack of information, skills, and money that could delay or undermine development, the report calls for a raft of measures to ensure these can become places where Londoners will want to live and work.

Opportunity Areas fig1

Where are London’s 38 Opportunity Areas? Click to see a larger image

Among the challenges the report highlights:

  • London boroughs often lack the experienced senior staff or specialist resources necessary to manage large and complex phased developments.
  • There is a lack of information available to prospective developers and investors about the level of public support required in each Opportunity Area.
  • It is unclear how the required transport infrastructure costs will be met and built on time in Opportunity Areas.
  • Utility regulation needs to be reformed to enable more timely forward provision of electricity and water infrastructure.

The report’s key recommendations include that:

  • the Mayor should require boroughs to introduce simpler planning rules across all Opportunity Areas, including rules about when Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), Section 106 planning obligations and affordable housing requirements will need to be removed or reduced in early phases to assist with viability;
  • a dedicated GLA-led advisory team focused on supporting the delivery of Opportunity Areas should be established to support boroughs in implementing development in Opportunity Areas;
  • the Mayor should ensure that a more detailed work plan, equivalent to a business plan, should be created to provide greater certainty for investors and public bodies and help to protect Opportunity Areas against the impact of economic and political cycles;
  • the Opportunity Areas should be categorised – green, amber, and red – by the GLA to show the level of support from public sector bodies required for developing each Opportunity Area (see map below); and
  • the Government should support the sustained investment in infrastructure required to deliver additional housing, jobs and economic growth in London’s Opportunity Areas. This might include the provision of additional resources, powers or other guarantees that will enable London to fully meet its growth potential.

London First is campaigning for a step change in housebuilding in London, doubling output to 50,000 new homes a year. The ideas contained in our latest report are just one strand of multiple actions that must be taken to build more homes.

Our previous work on housing includes research on the green belt in London; how to better use surplus public land for housing; a targets and incentives approach to getting more homes built in London; investing in London’s infrastructure; and looking at how London’s housing shortage is threatening the capital’s competitiveness.

Read more about our work on London’s built environment

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