A matter of capital
London is many things but humble isn’t one of them. One might say that kind of goes with the territory, given its centralised and dominant position within the UK, but that only adds to the pressures it faces on the home front
The BBC might be outsourcing a sizeable chunk of its operations to Manchester’s MediaCity, but for all the Coalition Government’s mantra of localism and decentralisation, London’s weighty position at the core of the nation’s life is unlikely to diminish anytime soon.
The city has certainly come a long way since it was established by the Roman Army around 43AD. The settlement that would in time become the City of London sprung up near a bridge the invading legions built to cross the Thames (not far, incidentally, from the site of the modern London Bridge). Londinium is considered most likely to have been a military base and staging post but it soon attracted traders and settlers. So began its growth – over the ensuing centuries – into the globally prominent megalopolis it is today. The rest, as they say, is history. Although, Londoners might be more tempted to say the rest is the future.
“This is a vast and disparate city, the product of centuries of immigration and technological change,” said the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, introducing his version of the London Plan that sets out the scene for the next quarter century’s growth and development.
“But with energy and enthusiasm we intend to bring our communities together – celebrating our different traditions while sharing the humour and friendliness that unite us as Londoners. Whatever the current economic difficulties, I have no doubt of one thing. With its growing population and astonishing base of skills and resources, London will not only lengthen its lead as the greatest city on Earth, it will come to be seen as the best big city on Earth, the best big city to live in.”
Everyone is more or less familiar with its broad structure. Central London is perhaps the area that most people think of when they consider the nation’s capital.
Here are the national landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament and its iconic clocktower Big Ben (though strictly speaking, that’s the name of the bell), Trafalgar Square and the equally iconic statue of Nelson, great cultural institutions such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, and more. It hosts the theatres and the shopping ‘arcadias’ of Oxford, Bond and Regent treets, hives of ‘industry’ such a the City for its high financial alchemy, Wardour Street in Soho for film and visual creativity, and Fleet Street – still the spiritual home of newspapers even if the press barons have long-since vacated the premises.
And all of this is barely a thumbnail sketch of a thumbnail sketch. For all that popular perception recognises central London, there is little in the way of official or commonly accepted definitions (London Underground’s travel zones notwithstanding, of course). With the City of London as the ancient original core of the city, the centre takes in a swathe of neighbouring boroughs, Islington, Camden, Lambeth, Westminster, and others, and it is often open to question where the gradual drift from central to inner to the greater conurbation begins.
For the commuting mandarins of high public and corporate office, for the students, the tourists and the consumers, and the flocking culture vultures, London is very much a city with a dizzying round of concentric centres.
Somebody surely needs to take a step back and impose some sense of comprehension on the perpetual motion machine that is the nation’s capital, then, and in a sense that is what the London Plan attempts. This splits the city into zones: the central activities zone and the inner London zone correspond to the everyday view of what constitutes London.
The original plan was formulated in 2004, but since then it has undergone some revision, and the latest incarnation reflects Johnson’s vision and aspirations for the city. The document is currently at the draft stage, under consultation and examination in public, and the aim is to have a finalised version published towards the end of the year.
London, for all its ancient girth, having absorbed a host of towns and villages and even other cities into its expanding urban sprawl, remains a city in motion. In terms of its built up area, it is one of the largest cities in the developed world. It is also one of the European Union’s most densely settled areas, exceeded only by Brussels and central Paris in terms of population density. In 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), London’s population was around 7.5 million. And it is still growing.
Over the next 25 years to 2031, it is expected that the capital’s population will increase by a further 1.3 million, with a decline in average household size from 2.34 people per household to 2.19 per household, with a subsequent rise in the number of households by 900,000. This equates to around 34,000 additional households a year – adding further pressure to the city’s already stressed accommodation requirements.
According to London Councils, there are already some 200,000 families in London who are living in over-crowded conditions. W ith those rising numbers of new people expected to squeeze into an already crowded urban space, it is clearly important to address where and how they will live. A gain, this is something that Johnson’s London Plan seeks to address, suggesting some 32,600 new homes are needed per year up to 2017.
London prides itself on being the engine of Britain’s economy, driving the nation forward and plugging it into the global picture, but as a city – no, as the seething conurbation it has become – it is a place where people not only work but must also live and breathe. That demands homes that people of all income brackets – not just the modern super-rich – can actually and genuinely afford to rent or buy.
That’s an enduring problem, and the London Plan in that respect, is butanother in a library of documents and plans that have sought to make London – indeed the country – a somewhat easier place for the human animal to find its comfortable habitation.
There’s an in-built irony for London, however, in that its sheer magnetism – as that central motive force for the nation’s economic, cultural and political machinery – that it constantly sucks in yet more people to boost its presence. In a sense, in cultivating the strategies to build the homes, infrastructure, and urban environment it needs to keep on top of its game, London is in a perpetual race against itself.
For all the London Plan’s strategies, for all the efforts to keep pace with population pressure, that home stretch will undoubtedly remain tantalisingly out of reach there on the horizon. That is, undoubtedly, the price that must be paid for its unassailable position in the nation’s affairs.
Southern Housing Editor Michelle McKenna’s choice of the top three ongoing developments in Central London:
1. Clapham One
Clapham One is the first phase of a regeneration plan for Clapham by the London borough of Lambeth. The £80 million landmark scheme will transform Clapham High Street creating new public facilities, including a sustainable leisure centre and community library, as well as apartments.
It will be constructed over two separate sites comprising 199 apartments – 44 of which will be affordable, provided in association with Notting Hill Housing Trust.
The Mary Seacole House building on Clapham High Street will be replaced with a 12-storey building designed by Studio Egret West, housing a library, health centre and 136 apartments. The leisure centre site on nearby Clapham Manor Street will also comprise a six-storey high residential block.
The development, which is being delivered by Cathedral Group, is due to be complete by the end of this year.
2. Woodberry Down
Hackney Council is leading the delivery of Woodberry Down’s regeneration, which will involve a mix of over 4,500 social rented, private and shared ownership homes, and new facilities including a community centre, health centre, academy, extended primary school, retail and commercial opportunities. The 20-year programme is being delivered in partnership with Berkeley Homes, Manor House Development Trust and Genesis Housing Group.
In 2002 a structural evaluation was undertaken to gain a full understanding of the conditions of the buildings and infrastructure on the estate. The results revealed that buildings could no longer be refurbished and comprehensive redevelopment was the only realistic option. As Government money for rebuilding council housing was unavailable, a decision was taken to build some new homes for sale in the private market to fund the affordable properties.
The work is being carried out in five phases. The first site is a mixed use development which will comprise 117 social rented new homes as well as community facilities and retail units and is expected to be completed in 2014.
A funding package was announced in January to ensure that the programme continues through the downturn in the housing market. The council is investing over £16million during the next four years, while developer Berkeley Homes has contributed more than £30 million. Funding for affordable housing has also been received from the Homes and Communities A gency.
3. Dalston Square
Barratt East London is working in partnership with the London Borough of Hackney, Transport for London and the London Development Agency on the scheme centred on the new East London Line station.
The partners are working together to develop the two sites at Dalston Lane South and Dalston Junction which will be linked by a public square.
A total of 553 new homes will be built, including affordable housing, incorporating energy efficient measures, such as green roofs and combined heat and power. Construction on Phase 1 started in February 2008 and was completed in A pril 2010. Work on Phase 2 started in July 2010 and is due to complete later this year.
The two sites are designed by a team of architects including: John M cAslan and Partners, Arup Associates, Weston Williamson and Goddard Manton. Landscape Architect Michel Desvigne has prepared a plan for the new square and worked with J&L Gibbons, using public feedback to prepare the detailed plans.
Ones to watch
Southern Housing Editor Michelle McKenna’s pick of forthcoming developments in the Central London region:
New lease of life for power station
Plans to redevelop the iconic Battersea Power Station have been give the go ahead by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
The station has been empty since it was de-commissioned in 1983 but the plans, which involve creating more than 20 acres of new public space and building thousands of homes, will see the historic Grade II listed building restored.
The application is an integral part of the GLAG roup’s wider Vauxhall-Nine-Elms-Battersea Opportunity Area (OA), which once completed will deliver 25,000 jobs, provide 16,000 homes and the largest park space to be created in London over the last 50 years.
The Battersea Power Station proposal, submitted by Real Estate Opportunities Plc, was approved by Wandsworth Council in November and referred to the Mayor as an application of strategic importance. It includes a commitment from the developers of more than £200 million in funding towards a two station extension of the Northern Line from Kennington.
A2 Dominion Group is planning to build more than 300 new homes on a two-acre canal-side site on the borders of Hackney and Islington.
The £80 million development will be designed by Stephen Marshall Architects and the new homes will be built to meet Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.
The site, acquired from Deutsche Bank, comes with planning permission to build 327 one, two, three and four-bedrooms properties. There will be 232 homes for private sale and 95 affordable properties, complete with 85,000 sq ft of commercial space. Demolition of the commercial buildings currently on the site is due to start in 2012, with construction of the new homes likely to complete in 2013.
The man from the Mayor’s office
The buck might stop with Boris Johnson, but Richard Blakeway is the man tasked with putting some ‘bang’ into the Mayor’s housing strategies. It’s surely an unenviable task, but as he tells Southern Housing, he believes the city and its boroughs can rise to the challenges by pulling together
“London is unique,” said Richard Blakeway, the Mayor of London’s housing adviser. The nation’s capital is notoriously expensive to live in; a global hub of commerce and finance, culture and tourism, yet for all its high-flying affluence it faces the necessity of accommodating citizens of more moderate means.
“Whilst London is a city of great opportunity, there is also a significant affordability gap,” he said. “It’s a city that houses people on high and low incomes. Clearly affording a home to buy, for example, in London is more expensive than the rest of the country. There’s a lot of ways we can address that: one of the primary ways is to ensure that we continue to have stretching goals for housing delivery.”
It’s a knotty problem, but it’s not Blakeway’s alone; as the job spec says, his task is “to lead the political, strategic and operational framework for the development of the Mayor’s statutory housing strategy and other housing and homelessness policies”. More than that, he’s expected to “develop and maintain effective partnerships with a wide range of specialist stakeholders”.
So, his is not a simple backroom role as some kind of ‘policy wonk’ whispering advice in the Mayor’s ear and otherwise letting Johnson take all the heat: he’s expected to get out there and clinch the deals and foster the relationships that put the strategies into effect.
Given all that, how does he balance the political and the practical aspects of provisioning London with the homes it needs? The answer is simplicity itself: “By being pragmatic,” he said.
The London Plan is calling for an average 33,400 new homes a year across the capital, with 13,200 of these intended to consist of a range of affordable options, from social rent through to low-cost ownership models, the “whole caboodle” as Blakeway put it. I deally, the aim is for a 60/40 split between social and intermediate housing, but the intention is not to impose specific targets for each tenure type in each area, but to work, well, pragmatically, with various partners to achieve the broader target.
Currently, Blakeway sits on the HCA’s London board, which is also chaired by the Mayor, but as a result of the Localism Bill, it is to be devolved to the Mayor and the Greater London Authority. This is expected to enhance the Mayor’s ability to address the city’s housing issues.
“The Mayor will have direct budget responsibility, rather than the indirect responsibility he has now,” Blakeway said. “So we can ensure that the actions of the new Housing & Regeneration Department are clearly aligned with the Mayor’s strategy, so that there is no confusion between national policy and London policy. It will clearly fall under the Mayor.”
Overcoming London’s housing shortage is not something that will be achieved overnight, Blakeway pointed out, saying it will need several investment rounds, but he was clearly confident that it can be done.
“One of the key mechanisms to address the affordability gap for housing need is new supply – and there’s a political consensus on that,” he said.
“The Mayor has done an enormous amountto build a consensus around our policies. We are working closely with the boroughs, housing associations, and developers to increase supply, improve the quality of housing and other issues, so we have got a clear objective and the Mayor is sharing some of the leadership in that.”
London’s legal eagles
From legislation for tackling anti-social behaviour to the ever changing regulatory environment social housing organisations are constantly faced with challenging legal issues. Southern Housing takes a look at the top five legal eagles operating within London.
1. Trowers and Hamlins LLP
This international Law firm has offices throughout the UK and Middle East. Its London office is based in the city by Tower Hill. It boasts the largest team of dedicated housing experts in the country and has supplied legal solutions to housing providers for over 30 years. One example of its work in the sector was advising the London Borough of Lewisham on all legal aspects of its housing PFI contract.
This city law firm has helped to draft legislation on social housing and regeneration and carries out a full range of services for registered providers and ALMOs. It has acted for the Tenant Services Authority on specific issues and has been instructed to advise Somer Housing G roup on its proposed re-organisation.
3. Winckworth Sherwood
The firm was founded over 200 years ago and while it has undergone some transformations during that time it has always had a strong connection with clients based in Westminster. It has advised some of the UK’s largest registered providers including the Anchor Trust, Genesis Housing Group and Hanover Housing Association.
4. TLT LLP
The firm’s social housing practice in London, headed up by partner Lynne Murray, has experience working in-house with local authorities, Government agencies, the HCA and registered providers. Clients include Swan Housing Group, Persimmon Homes and the London Borough of Hillingdon. TLT is one of 16 firms appointed by the London Boroughs Legal Alliance to a three year panel to provide legal advice on commercial, construction litigation, procurements and outsourcing, housing, property and regeneration, and other specialist areas.
5. Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP
Headquartered in the City of London the firm acts for a number of housing associations, particularly in respect of finance, development and tax work.
It is also involved in the structuring of major regeneration projects. Clients include the HCA and Lewisham Gateway Developments. It has also advised Bellway Homes/English Partnerships on a 10,800 home development on 150 acres fronting the River Thames. Advice included planning negotiations and the drafting of Section 106 agreements.
Sizing up the city
London’s 2008 gross value added (GVA) was over £265 billion. This represented 21 per cent – the largest regional share – of the UK total. Inner London contributed 67 per cent of the city’s GVA in 2007 and 14 per cent of the UK’s total GVA.
Between 2007 and 2008 GVA in London increased by four per cent. This was the strongest regional
increase of the English regions. This was the same as the UK increase over the same period (excluding offshore activities).
Productivity, as measured by GVA per hour worked, was 33 per cent above the UK average in 2008, the highest for all regions within England and the UK. London’s working-age employment rate was one of the lowest among English regions at 68.5 per cent in the period January to March 2010, similar to the North East. This compared with 72.0 per cent for the UK. The unemployment rate in London (for those aged 16 plus) was 9.1 per cent compared with 8.0 per cent for the UK. The unemployment rate in London stood at 9.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2009, higher than the UK rate of 7.8 per cent. A higher proportion of children in London (24 per cent) lived in workless households in the second quarter of 2009, than the England average of 17 per cent.
In April 2009, the median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees on adult rates who were resident in London was £599, higher than the UK median of £489.
Labour productivity (gross value added per hour worked) in London in 2008 was 32.7 per cent above the UK average.
The City is a world leader in international finance and business services. The Square Miles’ financial services generated a trade surplus of more than £43 billion in 2008.
(Source: City of London)