Are Opportunity Areas out of date?

(25 February 2022) A month ago we told the Planning and Regeneration committee of the London Assembly why we, and many community groups in London have always been so critical of Opportunity Areas and wanted the programme halted until there can be a serious review. [ see previous post ] In the last month we have been augmenting our statement by drawing on the experience of many of our member groups and today we submitted this memorandum.

Gathering this material makes us think that Opportunity Areas are doing more harm than good and should perhaps be scrapped completely —not something which had occurred to us before and not an idea we have yet discussed among our groups. But, for sure, a serious scrutiny is long overdue.

Opportunity Areas were introduced 30 years ago, mainly to focus attention and planning resources on large areas of former railway land, former industrial land and remaining areas of dockland, all of which could accommodate a lot of employment and housing growth, often with big transport infrastructure, and do so where there was not much population or activity to disturb. There has never been an adequate and democratic formal system for designating the areas, assigning housing or jobs targets to them, preparing their plans or managing the growth process. These failings matter more and more because the original brownfield lands are running out and the OA approach is being applied in areas like the City Fringe, Vauxhall Nine Elms, the Old Kent Road and even Kingston —areas already fully occupied by communities of residents and networks of functioning private businesses and public services.

The other reason why these failings matter so much more now is that the way London tries to tackle its housing problems doesn’t work. In theory the profits generated by the development of market homes at London’s inflated prices are supposed to enable 35-50% of the homes constructed to be ‘affordable’. In fact the post-2010 definition of ‘affordable’ puts most of this housing out of the reach of those in greatest need, the target percentages are rarely met and much of the profit from development goes to pay for high infrastructure costs of Opportunity Areas and to reward land owners and developers. Housing prices and rents appear to increase even faster in Opportunity Areas than elsewhere so people on low or middling incomes tend to become even worse off, on average, in these areas.

We have always argued for a complete review of the Opportunity Area system and of the individual cases. The Planning and Regeneration committee discussion in January only scratched the surface of the issues we reveal and a serious scrutiny remains to be done. Our memorandum captures some of the evidence. More is to come next month when the Assembly committee considers the Mayoral Development Corporations.

Just Space memorandum on Opportunity Areas 25 February 2022

Appendix material may also be added here.