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The London Cultural Infrastructure Plan: A call for planners
The Mayor of London published his new Cultural Infrastructure Plan, last month (March, 2019); as noted in Lichfields’ planning news, it focuses on cultural spaces and how the Capital should best plan to meet its cultural needs. The report makes clear that these spaces are at risk from land pressures, increasing business rates and permitted development rights. A call for action from planners is at the centre of this Plan, not least because the NPPF regards ‘cultural wellbeing’ as a crucial component of sustainable development[1]. The Plan delves into how we can better understand our cultural infrastructure, from cultural ‘consumption’ (which includes spaces such as art galleries, museums and libraries) to the increasingly broad nature of cultural ‘production’ (including but not limited to artist studios, design workshops and creative co-working spaces). It coincides with the Mayor publishing a Cultural Infrastructure Toolbox, the first of its kind, which also includes an interactive map. By understanding the differing cultural venues which make up London’s world class cultural infrastructure, only then can we start to take action. Planning effectively for cultural spaces in London has become increasingly complex. Unsurprisingly, cultural uses are experiencing much of the same pressures to that of industrial and office uses: rising land prices, increasing business rates and pressure from higher value residential uses. In response, the Cultural Infrastructure Plan is intended to sustain and enhance the cultural spaces within London by advocating collaborative solutions on a site-specific basis, whereby planners work alongside, developers, local authorities and cultural organisations. The Mayor’s Plan proses a call to action to 1) map where cultural spaces are within each Borough and 2) consider how we can enhance these spaces. The following questions addressed within the Plan are particularly crucial for our sector: What is cultural infrastructure? Cultural infrastructure, whilst critical to London’s economy, is often ill-defined. The Plan states this infrastructure encompasses the buildings, structures and places where culture is either consumed or produced. With the recent announcement of the Creative Enterprise Zones – the first ones being designated in December 2018 – we are seeing an increasing emphasis placed upon the creative economy; a sector which generates ‘£52bn for London each year, is the reason most tourists visit, [and] employs one in six Londoners’.[2] Our cultural spaces, beyond contributing to ‘cultural wellbeing’, are critical in terms of job creation, sector growth and maintaining London’s position as a world leader in cultural capital. The Mayor’s Plan stresses the need to map this cultural infrastructure across the Capital to plan effectively. The cultural infrastructure map allows users to choose from 36 indicators (spanning from artists workspaces, community centres, dance halls, heritage at risk, pubs and theatres) to explore different locations across the Capital. The map (see extract, below), allows cultural spaces to be viewed at both Borough and Ward level. This can then be combined with context layers such as transport, planning policy, audience and demographics, and open spaces. For instance, the map below shows the results of combining the museums indicator with the Opportunity Zone context layer. Developers, planners and architects proposing new developments are encouraged to consider cultural spaces, particularly those deemed to be at risk, and seek to incorporate these spaces within their proposals. Source: The Cultural Infrastructure Map (2019) Planning for cultural infrastructure The Cultural Infrastructure Plan outlines how we can better plan for cultural infrastructure, in accordance with the Draft London Plan policies, towards a ‘roadmap to 2030’[3]. It identifies a ‘seven-point action plan’[4] centred around mapping, sustaining and enhancing cultural spaces. Action 2 explicitly calls for planners to ‘plan for and create cultural infrastructure’[5]. This includes reference to the role that Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levey can play with regards to cultural infrastructure. Alongside funding, the plan calls for intensification of sites, re-purposing buildings and developing new sites to provide cultural spaces. It also highlights the potential role of meanwhile uses, a topic covered by Lichfields through our work for U+I (for more, read our recent blog). As well as creating new sites however, the Mayor calls for a more collaborative approach to planning such spaces. This involves the co-operation of local authorities, cultural organisations, architects and planning organisations. For example, Hackney Borough Council, the London Legacy Development Corporation and creative co-working spaces are safeguarding cultural production sites by introducing planning policies which ensure rent is below market value. This is intended to safeguard 8,500 sqm of creative working spaces within new developments in Hackney. Whilst we are already seeing a number of co-operative solutions being implemented across the Capital, more is needed to sustain our world class cultural assets which are vital to both London’s economy and our sense of cultural wellbeing. The Mayor seems resolute that planners must play a key role in delivering future cultural spaces to enable our creative economy to thrive and for all of London to enjoy. As the Cultural Infrastructure Plan states, a first step must be for planners to answer this call to action.   [1] National Planning Policy Framework, (2019), paragraph 8[2] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, Greater London Authority, (2019) p.7[3] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, GLA, (2019), p.35[4] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, GLA, (2019), p.38[5] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, GLA, (2019), p.40


BIDs mean Business (Improvement Districts)
Last week I attended the National BID Conference 2018, hosted by the British BIDs network, where delegates engaged in a lively debate on the key issues facing Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across the country, and how places need to evolve to survive. It seems timely therefore to reflect on the growth of UK BIDs in recent years, and the opportunities they present for those working in planning and economic development. Originating in North America, Business Improvement Districts are partnerships between local authorities and local businesses whereby businesses within a defined area or ‘district’ pay a levy to local authorities. The levy income allows members to benefit from shared services such as street management, security and investment in green infrastructure which can often be under-resourced within conventional local authority budgets. According to there are currently 305 BIDs operating in the UK and Ireland, a figure which has tripled since 2010. The map below shows that BIDs are mostly concentrated within large cities and major town centres, a reflection of the fact that BIDs are commonly town centre- It also shows that BIDs tend to be most common in parts of London, the South East and Midlands. The Capital now accommodates some 50 BIDs, with a particular concentration of town centre-focused BIDs in central London, and some industrial BIDs in Outer London Boroughs. London-based BIDs generate some of the highest levy incomes, for example, London’s New West End Company generated levy payments of over £3.8 million last year. Given these potential annual levy incomes, BIDs are being increasingly recognised as key drivers of growth and regeneration for town centres. Beyond the traditional ‘basket and bins’ approach of providing flower baskets and waste management, BIDs are now turning their attention to a wider range of place-making interventions. For instance, Lichfields has been working with the Manor Royal BID in Crawley to assess the Business District’s economic impact as well as advising on how Manor Royal can retain its competitive position as a premier business location following a successful ballot renewal in March this year. This includes provision of facilities, wider promotion, enhancements to the public realm and continued efforts by the Manor Royal BID to represent and co-ordinate activities across the Business District. Our final report and set of recommendations can be read here. Whilst BIDs have continued to grow both in number and economic contribution, this year’s national survey of BIDs identified two emerging challenges of particular relevance to the development sector: the changing nature of retail, and the nature of engagement with the planning system. Besides the large-scale shifts from ‘bricks to clicks’ (a trend towards shopping online rather than in store), BIDs are also experiencing challenges from everyday activities such as safety, security and falling business rates arising from increased vacancy in town centres. To help tackle these issues, the Autumn Budget announced a £675 million Future High Streets Fund, and a High Street Taskforce which will be deployed to help local areas respond to their unique challenges. BIDs will likely play a critical role. It is also clear that planning remains a central issue for BIDs, with just over 20% of BIDs reporting some involvement with Neighbourhood Planning, indicating much greater scope for involvement. Many BIDs have also strongly lobbied for their local authority to implement Article 4 Directions to prevent the ongoing erosion of office space in town centres, particularly where this has negatively affected the day-time economy and town centre footfall. These issues could be resolved by working more closely with local planners, urban designers and developers and by demonstrating the tangible impact and contribution generated by the BID business community for the local economy. BIDs have grown quickly in a relatively short period of time, and it is clear that they are here to stay. As an increasingly significant player in local economic growth and town centre revitalisation, they will become an increasingly important stakeholder within planning and economic development; after all, BIDs mean business.