The legendary Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly made a point of never coming to London, even if his team was playing there. Asked at a press conference when he would be visiting the capital, he replied: “When it’s finished”.
Bill, it will never be finished. Our city is brilliant and wonderful because it is always evolving, and the Mayor’s London Plan is another part of its evolution. We at U+I want to help the Mayor and be part of the process of constantly re-creating the greatness that is London.
We tend to think differently at U+I, and so in our response to the Mayor’s London Plan we wanted to focus on the areas where we think we could make a difference, as well as inspiring others to make change for the better.
U+I has a £6 billion portfolio of complex, mixed-use community-focused regeneration projects. We are unlocking urban sites bristling with potential. As a mixed-use regeneration specialist, we want to see mixed-used residential-led developments as a key part of the Mayor’s efforts to encourage greater co-location and integration of different land uses.
The current draft London Plan seeks to preserve strategic industrial locations across the capital for industrial activities alone. We believe there are opportunities to use these creatively to increase housing numbers in the capital through stronger encouragement of co-location of housing above or alongside industrial space. This will lead to more and newer industrial space being financed and created, as well as using the airspace above what would otherwise be low-rise and low-density areas.
Just as importantly, such areas can become the new contributions to London’s place-making. Mixed use and active places that people want to go to and are safe at night.
We recognise that there is no one size fits all or silver bullet solution to relieving the pressures on the city’s housing market and we believe that the challenges we face in our city require bold actions well as bold thinking.
One aspect of the housing crisis that we believe requires urgent attention is the acceleration of the phenomenon we call ‘Hollow London’. Central London is being hollowed out as land values rise and rents become ever more unaffordable to key workers, the younger generation and those on middle incomes, forcing many of them out of Zones 1 and 2.
We believe that one partial solution to this problem can be found in our ‘town flats’ concept - rental-only housing exclusively for intermediate income earning singles and couples looking for thoughtfully-designed and centrally-located housing at London Living Rent levels. There are a number of barriers to bringing these forward and we are keen to explore what might be possible with the Mayor, in terms of using public sector land and making a sensible, controlled and limited exception to space standards. We know there is a real demand for this amongst a group of people happy to trade space for place at a certain time in their life.
We passionately believe that the private and public sector working closely and harmoniously together is the only way for 21st century cities to survive and thrive, delivering shared outcomes for local communities. Increasingly, these two sectors are pitted against one another, with their collaboration seen as a dirty concept. We wholeheartedly reject that sentiment.
We know that our ambitions are closely aligned with those of the capital’s boroughs and, over the years, we have successfully developed what we think of as a gold standard of public-private partnerships. We are keen to explore this further with the Mayor and think about how we can set a baseline for how private sector developers can partner meaningfully with London’s public sector.
In common with our partnership approach, we believe that meanwhile-use can be truly worthwhile when it has been conceived from an understanding of the community and a commitment to delivering social and economic value that is authentic to the area.
Intelligent Green Belt
To be audacious, the London Plan should seriously examine the housing opportunities in the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land – defining those areas which truly deliver the spirit and ambitions of the Green Belt and those which might be ripe for development – particularly in sustainable locations near transport nodes. We are keen to explore further whether this can be done without a net loss of land in the Green Belt if more suitable pieces of land are swapped in.
Our culture, our future
We welcome the fact that the Mayor’s London Plan embraces the capital’s rich heritage and recognises the role of culture as part of the fabric of London. Culture is important to any city; London, as a City of Villages, is awash with it.
U+I’s approach to place-making puts culture at the heart of development. We would like to work with the Mayor to develop a best practice approach to ensuring that London’s culture is not eroded by insensitive development.
That might even create a place that Bill Shankly would have been happy to visit from time to time.