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Who holds the key to unlocking London’s Opportunity Areas?

Stephen Warrington, Chair of the LUTC and Non-Executive Director, London First

Building London Week was a fitting point to present the findings of the London Urban Transformation Commission (LUTC).

Amidst the capital’s worsening housing crisis and associated pressures on its long-term competitiveness, the Commission has been exploring why London’s large under-utilised brownfield sites, especially the Opportunity Areas (OAs), have too often failed to deliver the scale and pace of regeneration needed.

Having consulted widely with practitioners, a host of interrelated issues emerged which are hampering the productive development of OAs. Generally, the shortcomings are systemic and persist despite the positive intentions of most stakeholders.  The LUTC identifies four themes characterising the problem:

  • a persistent shortfall in sense of urgency, vision and leadership, not least among politicians and public agencies
  • flawed expectations of the respective roles of the private and public sectors, in particular the over-reliance on private development to fund public goods such as infrastructure and social housing, as the public sector has retreated from these roles
  • the inhibiting effect of planning complexity, upfront risk-taking and uncertainty; and
  • the scarcity of skills commensurate with the challenges, and of financial resource, with the latter constrained by a lack of financial devolution to local authorities

The Commission has identified key recommendations for change, relating to the way we approach and fund OAs in London in order to unlock their potential. The aim is to galvanise leadership and accountability, secure better partnership working between the private and public sectors, and outline a pathway for London to access greater financial resources and better incentives.

In terms of a refreshed approach, the LUTC calls for the creation of an Opportunity Area Delivery Board by the GLA with powers to drive progress where needed; and the formation of a properly skilled and resourced Urban Transformation Team within the GLA to implement the actions.

With respect to funding, fiscal reforms and financial innovation around future value capture are essential to enable London government to invest in upfront infrastructure and similarly to invest in London’s social needs, such as affordable housing and social amenities, including schools and health facilities.

Rapid progress can be made to make some improvements through fresh resolve, focus and revised working practices.  Other recommendations require formal change at London and national government level and will probably take longer. The LUTC calls for all stakeholders in London to pull together to make the changes which are in their grasp happen quickly, and to combine forces to lobby effectively at national level where needed.

At Building London Week we gathered some immediate feedback on the LUTC’s findings.  In soundings taken through real-time audience voting, we found that:

  • 54% of delegates felt that OAs have a ‘very significant’ role to play in addressing London’s needs
  • only 4% saw their role as ‘limited’
  • 80% thought that adequate political leadership has been lacking
  • 86% agreed that the GLA should play a stronger role, with well over half feeling strongly on this.

Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills also responded to the LUTC’s findings. The Deputy Mayor welcomed the work and commented on common ground between the LUTC’s recommendations and the new draft London Plan.

The LUTC offers its findings and recommendations as a constructive platform for further engagement across government and the development sector to establish the details of this better way of working.

London must do things differently to enable Opportunity Areas and similar sites to create more new places to live and work, which are attractive to the full spectrum of Londoners and are essential to the city’s long-term economic and social success.

 

 

 

 

 

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