Communities, business and academics join forces to tackle London’s Workspace Crisis

By George Turner.

Just Space, a coalition of community groups, academics and campaigners have launched a new handbook aimed at helping communities fighting the loss of work space in London.

“London For All” contains contributions from small business groups and campaigners who have successfully fought regeneration projects and sought to build inclusive mixed communities that provide spaces for people to live and work.

The project was innovative in bringing together academics, professionals, grass roots campaigners and representatives of business to discuss how to protect local communities and build sustainable economies.

Michael Ball, of the Waterloo Community Development Group, who contributed to the project said:

“The story of development in London has often been told as a battle between communities and business.

In reality communities often have a shared agenda with small local businesses who want to see a vibrant local community, protect local employment and local services. This project was great in bringing all those voices together in one room.”

London is losing its workspace

London is increasingly seeing its small industrial spaces lost and converted to luxury housing and high-end office development. This is driving out small businesses from the capital, a community which provides stable, locally based employment and economic stability.

The effect is increasing stress on the transport network and the loss of good quality, locally based, skilled jobs.

At the launch of the handbook Myfanwy Taylor of UCL said:

“At a time when politicians are talking about the housing crisis, the crisis in our workspace is being ignored.

London’s small industrial spaces are vital to employment and economic vibrancy. Our work has looked at how communities can join forces with businesses to make the case for a diverse local economy.”

Sue Terpilowski of the Federation of Small Businesses said that getting rid of London’s commercial space is not the answer to London’s housing crisis and stressed the need for communities and business to work together to find a solution. Speaking at the launch event she said:

“In London we are losing vast amounts of commercial space and businesses are struggling to find places to work.

London needs to address the housing problem, but the solution to that isn’t getting rid of all our commercial space.

“Businesses and local communities need to work together to find creative solutions to London’s workspace crisis.”

Increasing economic instability

A key message from the book is that the policy makers need to see the value of strong local economies to economic health and stability.

The drive for high-end housing and office space comes from an economic model that puts GDP growth in front of all else, including public health, the environment and economic stability.

This leaves the London economy more vulnerable to shocks as its economic well-being is married to an unsustainable housing boom.

Rachel Lawrence, from the New Economics Foundation, said:

“The damage caused by recent economic crashes have demonstrated how critical it is for us to build resilient local and regional economies.

Government and policy makers should recognise the unique benefits of a strong and diverse small and medium enterprise sector, in which businesses are well connected with each other, and with the communities in which they operate.

This kind of sector is not only crucial to local and regional economic resilience, but forms the link that’s too often missing between large scale, high end growth sectors, and local communities. Creating accessible and affordable places for people to work and run small and medium sized businesses is central to that goal.”

How London deals with the crisis in London’s workspace will be a key issue for the next mayor. Speaking at the event, Fiona Twycross AM, Chair of the London Assembly Economy Committee said:

“Assembly Members from all political parties agree that affordable workspace is one of the key issues facing the capital. Our task is to make sure that the issue is put high on the agenda ahead of the next election and is a priority for the Mayor of London.”

Further information

Download a copy of the handbook here.

Download a report of the event by Ilinca Diaconescu here: 150921 JSEP Handbook launch notes – from ID.

To get in touch with Just Space Economy and Planning group, find out more or join in with our events and activities, email jseconomy@gmail.com.