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Draft London Plan EiP: Design – fit for purpose?
Lichfields is currently monitoring the draft London Plan Examination in Public (EiP), which is scheduled to last until May 2019, and will report on relevant updates as part of a blog series. The sixth blog of the series focuses on the hearing sessions for draft policies D1-D3 and the Plan’s approach to delivering good and inclusive design, which took place on 5 March 2019. Whilst historically London has tended to eschew any comprehensive vision or design, with the Mayor hoping to deliver 65,000 new homes a year within the city’s existing boundaries, having a robust design framework in place will be critical to achieving that level of growth sustainably. However, in a city as large, complex and contradictory as London, setting city-wide policies which are effective, yet sensitive to local context is always going to be a challenge. The difficulties of this were laid bare during the EiP hearing session on delivering good design which specifically focused on policies D1-D3 [i] of the draft new London Plan. Well intentioned, though too detailed Perhaps unsurprisingly, most participants at the session felt that design would play a vital role in delivering sustainable growth and achieving broader social goals within London - although there was a wide range of views as to how effective the policies within the draft Plan would be in achieving this. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) considered Policy D1 overly wordy and difficult to navigate. The policies created little in the way of certainty as to what was expected of developers or how this would be assessed. Broadly speaking, these issues were echoed by London First, who agreed that the level of detail imparted was unnecessary. It was also held that the principles outlined in D1, which cover issues such as density, public space and accessibility, could hardly be considered London specific, and that they were more or less a reiteration of existing guidance published by (the now defunct) CABE and Design Council, already in widespread use. Defending these points, the Greater London Authority (GLA) noted that the design principles outlined in D1 were based on past research undertaken on behalf of the Mayor’s team [ii]. Whilst they could be interpreted as being broad, the GLA argued that they are a pragmatic response to the fact that not all local authorities have explicit design guidance in place – in their absence they can help guide decisions and provide greater clarity to developers.The GLA also maintained the view that Policy D2 did encourage local authorities to consult widely when collecting evidence to support local design documents. Interestingly, they also confirmed that the Mayor was in the process of producing supplementary guidance on housing design standards which would be published “in due course”. Are the policies genuinely inclusive? On inclusive design, a number of participants felt the way this was conceptualised in the draft Plan focused too heavily on physical impairments and disabilities. For example, a representative for the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group argued that far greater consideration should be given to how cognitive and sensory impairments are accounted for. Inconsistencies were also raised as to how inclusiveness is defined in policy D3 and within the glossary. The GLA took these comments on board and confirmed they would review these points.Others called for greater consideration of economic exclusion, alongside access to local services and amenities; it was also considered whether the social heritage of place should be given greater status; and more generally, whether the policies focused too heavily on the physical dimensions of urban design. There was some discussion on the use of planning conditions to ensure public access to the private realm, though the GLA felt that many of these other points were addressed in other sections of the Plan. The GLA also stated that whilst the draft Plan’s design policies did focus on the physical aspects of the built environment, these qualities have a very real impact on people’s individual experiences of the city, affecting our mobility, perceptions of safety and personal comfort and well-being. Scrutinising design scrutiny In terms of scrutiny, concerns were raised over design review policies at D2 F and G. Many felt the policies focused too heavily on schemes referable to the Mayor, whilst the thresholds associated with such schemes were thought as being relatively arbitrary from a design perspective. A representative for the City of London Corporation stated that most new developments in the City are taller than the 30m threshold, as a result they have extensive in-house experience and resources. It was felt onerous to require additional review from external independent experts, especially given that they already consult widely with other design and heritage bodies when scrutinising taller schemes. However, this point was addressed by the GLA in its written statement (and subsequent minor suggested amendment to Policy D2 F), which clarified that ‘design review does not need to be undertaken by external panels; if boroughs follow the processes set out in the Policies, this can be done in-house’. Countering this, the Design Council felt that many schemes below the threshold would benefit from design review; although the reviews focused too heavily on individual buildings in isolation, with not enough attention paid to the cumulative impact that multiple new developments can have on an area. Beyond this, it was noted that the policies should be more explicit as to when a local authority should request development proposals to undergo an independent review. Also, wider concerns raised over the lack of consistency, as well as the quality of feedback and advice given at design review, with calls for greater standardisation across the board. A need for more (local) design guidance Whilst design reviews are often a useful exercise, it is worth noting that less than 1% of schemes in London are subject to the process [iii]. The design of most schemes will be judged by planners against the policies set out in the development plan. relevant guidance and any other material considerations. Many participants recognised this and felt that design quality was best secured through the production of clear local guidance, either in masterplans or design codes. Extract from the Mayor of London’s Design Review Survey reveals the small proportion of planning applications that undergo design review Where these are in place, design requirements can be factored into the development process from the onset, and accounted for in the price paid for land. Frontloading design would also allow for greater levels of engagement and community buy-in. It was held by many that the GLA’s efforts were best placed providing guidance and resourcing to support this, whilst ensuring that planners were equipped with the skills and expertise needed to properly appraise the design of schemes and push for better placemaking. Problems of resourcing and skills Whilst Policy D2 D does encourage the creation of supplementary design tools, overall, many felt that local authorities did not have the sufficient in-house expertise or skills to produce these. Also, local character appraisals, guidance and design codes would take significant resourcing and funds to undertake, whilst there would be a significant lag before these policies had any effect. The GLA were sympathetic to resourcing constraints, though drew attention to the efforts being made by some London authorities. It was agreed that there was a need for existing planners to be upskilled, whilst more design specialists needed to be recruited. The GLA noted that it was raising the profile and importance of design in local authorities via schemes like Public Practice which it is currently expanding, and that the Homebuilding Capacity Fund would also help build the skills at local authority level. The Mayor’s Good Growth by Design programme hopes to address the challenges facing London’s built environment, by helping to ensure appropriate standards are in place, building capacity, supporting diversity, and championing good design Next steps Overall, it seems the Mayor and his team will have a lot to consider moving forward. Like many other sections of the Plan, the design policies would likely benefit from being cut back, referring more explicitly to guidance, and concentrating specifically on matters of strategic importance. Ensuring that new development meets high design standards will largely be down to London Boroughs. As stated, this will be dependent on the willingness of local authorities, whether there are robust local policies and planning tools in place, and having the staff with the necessary design skills in place, to produce guidance and make sound planning decisions. With much of this dependent on resourcing and funding, the Mayor will be somewhat constrained by funding agreements with central Government. The issues discussed at the session must also be understood in the context of the wider suite of policies included in the draft Plan’s design chapter, which cover a range of inter-related issues, including density, tall buildings, the public realm. These will arguably have as much, if not greater, impact on how London looks and feels in the future. Whilst a final version of the London Plan still seems a long way off, it was reassuring to see high levels of engagement on the subject of design, and a genuine willingness from all to strive for higher standards of placemaking across London. [i] Mayor of London, draft new London Plan: Chapter 3 - Design, Policy D1-D3[ii] 'Public Space Public Life' study in London 2004, conducted by Gehl Architects for 'Central London Partnership' and 'Transport for London'[iii] Mayor of London, Planning Capacity Survey See our other blogs in this series: Draft London Plan EiP: A new hope for industrial land? Draft London Plan EiP: Heritage and culture are now dusted Draft London Plan EiP, Affordable Housing: 3D snakes and ladders Stand and deliver… Draft London Plan EiP: ‘Willing Partners’ or not? Lichfields will publish further analysis on the draft London Plan Examination in Public in due course. Click here to subscribe for updates. This blog has been written in general terms and cannot be relied on to cover specific situations. We recommend that you obtain professional advice before acting or refrain from acting on any of the contents of this blog. Lichfields accepts no duty of care or liability for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from acting as a result of any material in this blog. © Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners Ltd 2019, trading as Lichfields. All Rights Reserved. Registered in England, no 2778116. 14 Regent’s Wharf, All Saints Street, London N1 9RL. Designed by Lichfields 2019. Image credit: Paul Hudson


Draft London Plan EiP: Heritage and culture are now dusted
Lichfields is currently monitoring the draft London Plan Examination in Public (EiP), which is scheduled to last until May 2019, and will report on relevant updates as part of a blog series. The fourth blog of the series focuses on the hearing sessions for draft policies HC1-HC7 on Heritage and Culture, which took place on 8 March 2019.   The possible sources of land supply are becoming increasingly restricted and controls over development are becoming stronger as the London Plan Examination in Public (EiP) rolls on, all done in the positive spirit of preserving the best of London.  Planning has always exposed the dilemmas facing society. With the EiP Panel member Roisin Barrett doing her best to open up queries about the validity, effectiveness and the implications of seven proposed policies, the various participants and the Mayor’s team mostly agreed that each of those was indeed effective and important. On the capital’s heritage generally and with recognition that this is an essential component of Good Growth, all of the participants agreed with the GLA’s proposals and sought stronger controls and additions to policy.  Notable was the criticism that the policy is ‘only about architecture and archaeology’ and that there is a need to add environmental heritage – more categories of parks and gardens, ancient woodlands, inclusion of waterways with canals and rivers all being described as part of London’s archaeology – and to support wider cultural heritage through conserving the diverse lifestyles of Londoners. Nicky Gavron for the London Assembly Planning Committee rightly explained that such heritage is good for Londoners and also good more widely through its USP of environmental quality for its tourist visitors, bringing added economic value and added cultural value to the city – enjoyed by the world.  With the GLA Act 1999 not including a heritage role for the GLA, she sought encouragement for the Mayor to produce also a Heritage SPG through its planning powers. Interest groups pressed for inclusion of Conservation Area Management Plans and the intended National Park City designation to be recognised as planning tools.  And for the stronger approach of ‘preserve and enhance’ rather than conserve. There was general agreement that draft Policy HC1 on heritage should start with a new paragraph which sets out the overall reasoning for the policy, stressing the need for a comprehensive and much wider interpretation of heritage – both built and otherwise. The GLA team responded by indicating that it would add references to the importance of community involvement and the economic and cultural role of heritage.  Thankfully, all agreed that the wording of the tests of harm and balancing are well-expressed in the NPPF and that it did not need further referencing in the final Plan. Extra controls over London’s four World Heritage Sites (draft Policy HC2) were encouraged by all present, particularly following the UNESCO criticisms and the trial review studies of the Westminster WHS.  The GLA noted that buffer areas can be defined for close-up appraisals but that settings are much wider and their assessments should be built into the Plan and SPG.  And that cumulative effects of multiple proposals should form an additional assessment. The Westminster trial assessment had highlighted the need for 3D visual modelling to be established, now built into the evidence base for the Lambeth Local Plan Review and to be incorporated in the Westminster evidence base. Another tick for increased controls. The importance of managing and protecting London’s Strategic Views and locally-defined views through the long-winded draft Policies HC3 and HC4 was also generally supported.  The GLA said that it is seeking to update the London View Management Framework SPG (LVMF SPG) to have better information for each view, define new or better viewpoints, strengthen guidance on river views and to sort out in the Policy a better expression of concern for background views (following from the case of the Stratford block seen behind St Paul’s in the view from Richmond Park).  There was little or no questioning of the current basis for assessment, including whether telescopic views have any real relevance where things are not visible to the naked eye – arguably not ‘the viewer’s ability’ as required by policy.  There could be a continuing need for night-time assessment in key locations. With the criticism expressed that the LVMF approach ‘is still a Zone 1 Policy’, there was also a general consensus that local views – to be adopted through local plan reviews – should be given equal weight, even if they restrict delivery in Opportunity Areas.  And that new policies should include seeking the rectification of past mistakes rather than their acceptance. A big criticism was of the outdated technology expressed in the LVMF SPG and the need for better 3D modelling (apparently to be progressively delivered for free by the GLA).  However, the GLA said there would continue to be a role for parallel methodologies for the foreseeable future. So the morning session concluded with important existing and new protections and controls to be built into the system. The afternoon addressed London’s cultural activities and identities, noting in particular the effects of gentrification on settled and ethnic communities and the parallel economic pressures on small and creative businesses. Discussion on draft Policy HC5 supported the blanket protection to be offered to all cultural venues, facilities and activities across London, with only a written justification support for replacement where necessary for other similar purposes.  There was regular cross-reference to this also being part of the cultural heritage to be protected by heritage policy HC1. The need for retention and creation of spaces for creative industries was naturally encouraged, but together with the need to ensure that they do not detract from the neighbourhoods they sit in. Interestingly, the London Assembly Planning Committee pressed for the preparation of a Cultural Action Plan for all larger mixed use developments and for schemes of over 100 residential units, with audits of all existing businesses and jobs – matters now already being picked up by the Mayor in his decision-making. The night-time economy is to be supported (and controlled) by a new draft Policy HC6, encouraging locations in the CAZ, town centres and other locations around transport nodes. The difficulty will be the need for balancing of the pressures from operators and users with those from the adjoining residential areas – sounds familiar?  This is all apparently to be managed by ‘the involvement of local communities’. Lastly – the populist government and Campaign for Real Ale approach to protection for all remaining pubs in London is to be enshrined in draft Policy HC7, with little or no voices of opposition raised at the Panel session.  The Inspector had no questions for the GLA.  The GLA merely repeated that the required 2-year marketing period is necessary to avoid pubs being run down and avoided the question of how this could slow down delivery of Good Growth policies associated with new homes and jobs. So, the day was full of well-supported and important protections for heritage, World Heritage Sites, views, cultural heritage, the night-time economy and pubs.  There remains every prospect that these will be carried through to the final adopted version of the London Plan. But the day also naturally ignored the pressing issues from earlier in the EiP about the necessary delivery of sufficient homes for Londoners and the right spaces for their jobs when set against similar protections against the loss of industrial land, green belt and MOL, parks and gardens - and even back gardens – all tightening the screw on much-needed development options. There is no clear answer to this overriding dilemma and sets up an unenviable task for the Panel to write up.