A recovery plan for London

More than 60 community groups and campaigners contributed to the Just Space Recovery Plan, being published on Monday 4 April 2022. It calls for a radical change of course in London’s planning: less a developers’ city, more a city for its people.

The Just Space network was formed to bring together a diverse range of groups to participate in London planning, which is usually dominated by town planners and developers. During Covid19 the network created its own community-led Recovery Plan, a set of policies that is a call for action for a positively different post-pandemic London: people-centred rather than development-centred. The Plan aims to reverse the inequalities that the pandemic has brutally exposed. 

A Pluriversal Recovery Plan In keeping with Just Space principles of seeking consensus, great care was taken to record diverse and divergent positions through a series of workshop debates. Designed to minimise bias, this innovative approach used an empathic understanding of each other’s different knowledge and lived experiences, which was distilled into a collective vision and coherent set of policies. One workshop participant named the approach ‘pluriversal’.The document ranges from the personal to the collective, from the neighbourhood to the city-wide. The 44 policy positions converge on strong demands for 

●    A Caring City

A focus on the Care economy. London must take care of people and nature, the spaces and places they occupy. Caring for each other resonates with caring for the inherited building stock as opposed to demolition. 

●    Visibility & Influence For All

Coinciding with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the pandemic served to raise consciousness of systemic inequalities and the value of activism, linking with the principle of justice in the planning of the city. Policy proposals aim at resourcing diverse and bottom-up democratic structures to enable community organisations to become active agents of change.

●    A City Of Local Neighbourhoods

The pandemic experiences add meaning and urgency to our calls for a strong ‘Lifetime Neighbourhood’ approach across London so more of our needs can be met without travel, especially without driving. Importantly, many people and communities want to remain in place through all stages of life, not face displacement.

●    Priority For Climate And Nature

The urgency of the environmental crisis—not only climate change but our whole relationship with nature, buildings, food, transport. A crucial issue in transforming the environment is ‘just transition’.

A positive side of the pandemic was that Londoners looked after each other when it mattered, through solidarity, co-operation, mutual aid groups, food banks and local networks. People also discovered the value of green spaces and less pollution from road and air traffic. These strengths should be fostered in a London that cares about people and nature.

The Recovery Plan calls for action by community organisations as well as the Authorities. The way development takes place needs to change radically: planning and building can’t continue as the servant of a small minority of financial interests at the expense of existing communities and the things they value. 

Richard Lee, co-ordinator of Just Space said:
‘It is now more important than ever to ensure all voices are included in the future planning of London. This is a vital part of recovery.’ 

Wendy Davis of Rooms of Our Own said:
‘Under Covid, it has been the low-paid workers, the cleaners, the carers, the delivery drivers who have been absolutely vital to us. A definition of lockdown: the middle classes stay at home and the working classes bring things to them. The Covid lockdown has made us value the care workers, and now is the time to reward them.’

Michael Edwards Honorary Professor, the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL said:
‘What is needed is an emergency programme: something like post-war reconstruction. Special measures are called for and this is recognised by the many who say the future must be different from the past.’ 

DOWNLOAD the recovery plan: JustSpace.org.uk/recovery

Opportunity Areas: a result

In our previous post we explained our strong criticisms of the system called Opportunity Areas, used in London to drive through most of the capital’s major developer projects. We had submitted a lot of evidence about this to the London Assembly’s Planning and Regeneration Committee which met in February, repeating our call for the programme to be halted until there is a proper scrutiny.

Now (mid March 2022) the Committee has written a LETTER picking up on a few of our less contentious points but throwing the demand for a detailed evaluation of the projects back to the Mayor and his planning team. Recommendation 5 says:

The Mayor should explore options for carrying out a full evaluation of Opportunity Areas, which assesses outcomes within Opportunity Areas against original objectives and compared with equivalent sites in London which have not received Opportunity Area designation. This should include exploring the impact on local residents and businesses and the potential for gentrification and regeneration in Opportunity Areas.

Committee letter

We should welcome this as better than nothing. It’s peculiar, though, because the original objectives may often not be the only or best or most compelling yardsticks, because most Opportunity Areas simply don’t have equivalent London areas not designated and because the ‘potential for’ gentrification and regeneration is less important than whether these processes have or have not taken place, and why. We shall expect open consultation on a scoping study so that a more robust terms of reference can be established.

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.

Opportunity Areas: ?scrutiny

On 8 February the Planning and Regeneration committee of the London Assembly discussed the working of Opportunity Areas – the 30+ areas in London designated for most of the growth in housing and jobs. [ See our previous post ] Many community groups who have struggled with these very undemocratic entities for years watched the webcast and were not impressed. This doesn’t count as scrutiny. Most of the members of the committee are newly elected and have yet to learn the complexities of these Areas. They don’t have substantial staff teams to marshall material for them and the statistics they would need to do their job properly often don’t exist. For example data on numbers  of “affordable” homes completed in each Area are available at the touch of a button from the GLA’s spanking new Planning Data Hub, but the breakdown between the categories of “affordable” housing and thus the all important numbers of council homes is not. ‘We have to phone around for that’ said the officer.

You can watch the meeting here if you missed it.

We had urged them to invite representative community people from some of the Opportunity Areas to speak —as they had done so effectively last autumn on Mayoral decisions on planning applications— but they didn’t do that so were informed only by their background knowledge and a submission from us. This wasn’t enough to enable them to press home their questions to the Officers they had invited whose professional fluency and charm got the better of them.

For some reason the meeting was set up partly to explore the relationship between the Opportunity Areas and Housing Zones which often overlap with them. It turned out, though, that Housing Zones had been a brainchild of a deputy mayor in the Boris Johnson period, were not thought to be useful any more and were about to be abolished.

The democratic deficit in how Opportunity Areas are designated, how their initial plans are made and formalised, how the schemes are managed  and the impacts on citizens and the local economy in and around each Area recorded remain largely unscrutinised. These are the areas where much of the existing employment losses are felt, where many communities are displaced by estate ‘regeneration’, where prices and rents rise faster than elsewhere for firms and households. Increasingly they are also areas where development has shot ahead of social and transport infrastructure, much of which will now not be built. So many of the problems of London need to be understood in a scrutiny of Opportunity Areas. Neither the Mayor’s planning teams nor the Assembly are doing or commissioning the studies that would be needed and we hope that the Committee will return to this issue after the May elections.

A short version of our submission to the committee is in our previous post. Our much longer submission will be posted here later in February after some checking and polishing. [ Here it is now: download PDF ]

In the mean time the Deputy Mayor accepts that better initial studies and consultations are needed for new Opportunity Areas but they can’t afford to do more than one a year. The first one, for the Royal Docks and Beckton, is just getting under way and consultations have begun this week.

Opportunity Areas: Assembly investigates

On Tuesday 8 February 2022 at 10.00 the Planning and Regeneration committee of the London Assembly will consider the 40-odd areas in London where most of the new homes and jobs get provided. They are doing this by questioning the deputy mayor for planning and others from City Hall but, despite our offers to help, have not invited any community participants.

The agenda and papers are here, along with the video link for those who want to listen but can’t or won’t go. IMPORTANT CORRECTION: the meeting is at London Fire Brigade, 169 Union Street, not at the new City Hall as we said yesterday.

It’s normal among community groups in London to consider “opportunity areas” as increasingly opportunities for developers, not citizens or existing businesses. Just Space and many of its member groups have been demanding reforms to the Opportunity Area system since our foundation a decade ago, for example in 2018 here and in our submissions to the public Examination of the new London Plan. We called for a halt to the designation of any more Areas until there was a thorough review of what had happened to date. This week’s Committee discussion does not look like being the systematic review we asked for and which the GLA London Plan team seemed to promise during the inquiry, but we hope it will lead to one.

As well as statistics and maps prepared by the GLA planners, the committee has received the following memorandum from just Space:

Just Space: memorandum on Opportunity Areas for the London Assembly Planning and Regeneration Committee. 26 January 2022

Context: There have been areas designated as Opportunity Areas ever since the first London Plan written soon after 2000 and finally adopted in 2004. They were the areas where most new development activity was expected. New ones have been added in each successive London Plan.  There were originally also “Intensification Areas” which were not planned to be bulldozed, but where a lot of new development was wanted.  These were merged with OAs later and they are all in one big list now.  Just Space includes community groups active in some of the OAs and has made strong representations about both the concept/system and individual cases over many years.

Now the London Assembly Planning and Regeneration Committee has planned to scrutinise the issue and we want to be able to make a submission to inform their meetings. Provisionally, these are the issues on which we want to submit (and suggest groups who can give first-hand evidence):

  1. the process and procedures for designating OAs are unclear and undemocratic. OAs seem to be contrived in discussion between developers/landowners, boroughs and the Mayor, then then assimilated to the London Plan. Citizens  are sidestepped. Only one half day was programmed in the 2019 EiP for discussion of ALL the established OAs and new ones and broad policies. (Kingston, City Fringe have been particularly fraught.)
  2. the targets for housing numbers and job numbers seem to lack systematic justification. These are the main performance indicators used to evaluate their success while social, environmental and regeneration performance are never examined.
  3. there is a variety of guiding/governing documents (OAPFs, SPDs, some of which are subject to EiP examination, others not. All should be. (Old Kent Road has seen many permissions ahead of a properly approved plan.)
  4. The management and implementation of the OAs has no general guiding principles, no democracy of its own ( it depends on whatever democracy is practiced in the host borough(s). (Barking Riverside, Old Oak are among the OAs where this democratic vacuum has been an issue.)
  5. There is no systematic survey/inventory of the existing site of an OA or of the areas around it, so the proposals seem to be based on almost a blank sheet approach instead of the actual mass of uses, users and residents (Peckham Vision has been especially vocal on this, also Old Kent Road, also areas adjoining OldOak). Since many OAs are co-located with ‘Areas for Regeneration’, it is a major failing that they can proceed with so little data and participation from established people and enterprises.
  6. The 2 Mayoral Development Corporations (London (Olympic) Legacy LLDC and Old Oak and Park Royal OPDC) are exceptions in that they each have a special governing institution with some planning powers.  (Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum at LLDC and Grand Union Alliance at OPDC can testify to the strengths and weaknesses of these structures)
  7. The powers of OA agencies like the Development Corporations do not enable them to acquire land cheaply enough to achieve all they are tasked with achieving and this drives densities ever upwards. (Grand Union Alliance can testify on this.)
  8. Research and citizens’ experience points to Opportunity Areas as having negative effects on poorer residents and many pre-existing businesses through rising housing costs and industrial land values, often exacerbated by actual displacement. This is the opposite of ‘regeneration’ and a major failing of the Plan.

Just Space would like to submit a paper on these lines to the committee and cooperate in identifying witnesses.” END. A fuller paper is in draft and will be added in February.

The 2 Development Corporations (for the Olympic Park and surroundings LLDC and for Old oak Park Royal OPDC) will be considered separately by the following meeting of ths Committee on 17 March 2022.

GLA seeks inputs to NEXT London Plan

7 January onwards. The GLA planning team emails to say that they are having a consultation on what should go in to the next London Plan. We are shocked to find that the consultation period started in mid-December and has just 3 weeks remaining.

So unless the GLA can be persuaded to offer more time, community groups will need to move very fast indeed to make serious, considered submissions. Are the planners serious?

Looking back through the emails, we find that this was trailed on 14 December, so we should not be so put out by today’s message. Apologies. However there have been holidays in the mean time so the consultation period is very short.

Just Space has been working hard on a Recovery Plan for London but it won’t be ready before the end of February (changed from January). We do urge all member organisations to respond to this GLA invitation as best they can in the time available.

Later (17 January) we have written to the GLA:

We are responding to your email newsletter and web site posting inviting submissions about how the GLA should go about developing the next London Plan.
Just Space will, of course, wish to make submissions and representations about the next London Plan and about the process for preparing it, and to deliberate with its member-groups in the process of doing so.
We were surprised at the timing of this short consultation. There is not much time for us – or other groups – to do what you ask before 31 January and the earlier invitation just before the Christmas/New Year break escaped our notice, as it did for the London Forum and others.
Our members have been, and are, very busy indeed preparing a document provisionally entitled a Recovery Plan for London and this will be a major input from Just Space to the London Plan process. However it will not be finished until some time in February. So we are letting you know that this will reach you after your target date. 
More broadly, we live in hope that the Mayor and your team will adopt a more open and co-production approach to this next London Plan. As part of this we want to be more involved in the scoping and execution of the plan making process. 
We are glad that your December request emphasises equality issues (though with only a request for anecdotes and suggestions on widening your contact networks). We shall be particularly keen to see these crucial issues sorted out, especially given the need to greatly improve the approach to equality in the previous Plan.
Please could we have a virtual meeting with you about all this in February – either on the process/procedures or on substantive issues or both.

More about the GLA work on equality / equity is trickling out.
It seems that GLA (?Environment team) has commissioned Centric Lab to do some work on Environmental Inequity. Their web statement looks quite good and as though community knowledge will be respected on a par with ‘expert’ knowledge. They are starting with work on Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Waltham Forest. They are holding an online open meeting on Wednesday 19th january 1900h for just one hour. Sign on for details. https://www.thecentriclab.com/news-and-blog-roll/2022/1/14/working-with-the-greater-london-authority-on-inequalities-and-environmental-action-in-london

Caitlin Colquhoun is leading within GLA housing team on the equality review and they are doing a report now on housing and inequality. (Added 17 January)

The GLA Planning request in full is: At this stage, we are calling for evidence that Londoners and other stakeholders think we should consider while developing the programme. This could include:

  • Published reports, research, case studies or other information which might help us understand how London should change or develop in the future
  • Personal accounts of how development, buildings, places, spaces and planning affect different communities, especially impacts that relate to age, disability, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, marital status or pregnancy and maternity. This may include personal accounts of how people from different groups experience places very differently, and experiences of those who identify with more than one of these characteristics
  • International or national examples of best practice
  • Suggestions for how we can reach a more diverse range of Londoners

Later 10 February 2022. Michael Bach of the London Forum sent a submission to the London Plan team and has circulated this reply:

To answer your question, once the current call for evidence submissions concludes, an initial phase of engagement is envisaged during March 2022, which will seek to capture a wide range of views around broad areas of discussion. Later phases starting over the summer/autumn will enable more detailed discussions on specific issues, including key long-term challenges facing London and the range of options and approaches that could help address them. 

We will provide further details of our plans for engagement as soon as we are able to. The Programme is intended to provide a structure to capture the views of stakeholders and, through this and the gathering of evidence, identify issues and options that a future review of the London Plan (after this Mayoral term) could consider.

I hope this answer is helpful, and if you have any more queries please email the Planning for London Programme inbox. PlanningforLondonProgramme@london.gov.uk

On 13 February the London Forum posted strong criticism of the GLA’s proposed timetable for for doing the next London Plan – basically leaving it until after the next mayoral election in 2024 – and their post has a lot of helpful detail. https://www.londonforum.org.uk/updates.php#6ommnpzf

Assembly probes Mayor’s planning decisions

[Later: Since this post – and partly as a result of this story – Just Space worked with Planning Aid for London in the writing of a guidance document for community groups about the call-in process. [This is now published here ]

Just Space has been having productive exchanges with long standing and newly elected members of the London Assembly since the elections held in May 2021. Partly as a result, the new Planning Committee (now merged with Regeneration) is directing its first scrutiny to a hitherto murky aspect of how the Mayor system works: the handling of planning applications where the Mayor makes the decision instead of the Borough council.

Most of the 9 November meeting was used to hear evidence from Just Space and community groups, most of them linked to Just Space in some way. It was a very important meeting, revealing major failings in transparency, fairness and effectiveness in the system and how it works for Londoners. The transcript is available (marked DRAFT until approved at the January meeting) and is a fascinating and impressive read. At its January 2022 meeting the committee will discuss the issues with Deputy Mayor for Planning Jules Pipe and others and then write a report making recommendations.

[Planning applications are mostly decided by the local London Borough but major ones have to be referred to the Mayor of London who considers whether to get involved. A Stage 1 Report is issued by City Hall which can offer advice or indicate changes which the Mayor of London would seek so that the scheme complies with the LondonPlan. Then when the local authority is ready to make a decision the Mayor of London issues a Stage 2 Report in which (s)he can direct that permission be given, direct that it be refused or ‘call-in’ the application and take over the council’s role as planning authority. For the call-in cases, the Mayor’s City Hall staff work to negotiate with the developer a scheme which they can recommend to the Mayor and then finally prepare a Stage 3 Report to the Mayor. The Mayor then holds a one-day Hearing and makes a decision – which may or may not follow officers’ advice.]

It became clear in the Assembly Planning Committee meeting that there is a lot wrong with the whole process from Londoners’ point of view.

For most of the 20-year life of the GLA call-ins have normally led to the Mayor granting permission if it hasn’t already been directed at Stage 2. So Londoners became cynical about bothering with it. The recent decision of the Mayor to refuse permission at Mortlake Brewery (see previous post) has made many of us take the process more seriously.

Very few people know about this whole process, how it works and how they can effectively submit their views. There is little or no guidance on when and how submissions can be made, how they should differ from submissions made at borough level and how community groups can find the resources needed to make affective submissions.

It is very alarming that the Mayor of London’s staff often have frequent meetings with developers (applicants) but rarely or never with community organisations. In the recent Mortlake case the local groups had to use a Freedom of Information (FOI) request and discovered that there had been 23 such meetings with developers.

This process of negotiation is quite properly intended to produce a ‘better’ scheme, conforming more closely to London Plan policies and priorities. But there is no clear process for repeating the normal public consultations on the revised scheme: the Mayor of London’s consultations are minimal compared with what Boroughs are required to do. And even when a developer submits a radically altered scheme (as happened at Shoreditch Goods Yard) it does not go back to the boroughs but remains with the Mayor to decide.

A headline issue for us was the scope for making the entire process more democratic. Many speakers expressed dismay that the decision was being made in each case just by one individual and Just Space suggested that the Assembly Planning Committee should have a role in this decision making.

[It’s not widely known that the Assembly and its committees are NOT part of the decision-making process of the Mayor of London. They sit alongside the Mayor and the staff teams, and can only scrutinise. They don’t even receive copies of the Mayor’s Stage 1/2/3 reports although individual Assembly Members can and sometimes do lobby the Mayor on individual cases. ]

These notes simply gather some highlights. We do recommend reading the full transcript and groups can always write to the committee with further views before the January meeting. Just Space is also participating at Planning Aid for London in the writing of a guidance document for community groups about the call-in process. [This is now published here ]

Good News

Good news is rare, so Just Space has been happy about two victories over the summer. Seven Sisters Indoor Market (also known as the Latin Village or Pueblito Paisa) at Wards Corner, Seven Sisters, has a breakthrough after one of the longest-running campaigns in the Just Space network. The other, at Mortlake, was a victory at a Mayor of London Hearing at which Just Space was able to lend support to the local community organisations. There is also encouraging news below from engagement with the London Assembly.

This is an update with links, especially for those who missed these news items at the time.

Wards Corner

Wards Corner in South Tottenham has for many years been a trading and community centre for Latin American communities in London, as well as other local migrant communities. Seven Sisters Indoor Market occupies ground floor space in the former Wards department store above Seven Sisters station, a historic building neglected by its owners, Transport for London (TfL), for nearly 50 years. The traders together with local residents, businesses and customers have long campaigned for the Wards building to be repaired, restored and brought back into full use, delivering a new market alongside new low-cost retail, office and community spaces.  But they have been up against a local authority, Haringey, which was actively pro-developers and supported (and gave permission for) a comprehensive demolition and re-build of a much larger site including the Wards building to provide corporate retailing and housing (including NO social or ‘affordable’ homes at all). The developer, Grainger, had been pressed into making provision for the reinstatement of the market in part of the new scheme and for housing the traders across the road during the development. But the traders and wider community organisations remained determined to implement an alternative scheme for their own building and over which they would have control. 

After many years of inquiries, hearings and power shifts within the Haringey Labour Party, this year’s news is that Grainger have pulled out of their scheme. This is the event which has prompted the current jubilation and strenuous moves to constitute a Community Benefit Society to deliver the alternative community scheme. The latest set of Haringey Council leaders are backing the alternative. 

There is far to go, of course, in setting up a community development machinery, securing a long-term lease from TfL and addressing some of the legacies from the Grainger years, including some tensions amongst some traders. But this is good news for a campaign which has been part of Just Space since our foundation 15 years ago.

It’s a project which embodies so much of the spirit of the community-led challenge in London’s development: the pursuit of social and cultural values, not just financial value; support for the hidden but real economy where people meet each other’s needs, not just business greed, and where community itself becomes an agent for change. In the world of Covid-19 all this becomes even more important. Congratulations to Haringey for supporting it.

Mortlake Brewery

The disused Stag Brewery site was the subject of a major housing and mixed use redevelopment proposal on the bank of the Thames in the Borough of Richmond with a school adjoining it. There was a long history of the Council preparing a brief for the site and numerous local community groups making submissions on a very wide range of issues. In the end Richmond Council gave permission for a scheme which the local groups regarded as far too dense for various reasons —amenity, effects on the ‘sylvan’ riverside, traffic generation in an area of very poor accessibility, overloading of social infrastructure (with a 90% increase in neighbourhood population)— and flood risks. The primary school which residents and the Council had wanted was replaced in the plan by a proposed secondary Academy, forced on the council by the DfE against all evidence of need.

The scheme as approved by the Council in 2019 had offered 17% of ‘affordable’ housing out of 813 homes and it was called in for the Mayor’s decision by the Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe on the grounds that this proportion was inadequate. The exact grounds were “…including the delivery of housing and affordable housing as well as highways impacts and potential mitigation.”

In negotiations at City Hall the scheme was modified in July 2020 and again in September to offer 30% affordable housing (by habitable rooms), split 41% London Affordable Rent (LAR), 59% intermediate (Shared Ownership and London Living Rent). No social rent homes were proposed. To achieve even this level of ‘affordable’ housing the density of the development had been increased to 1250 homes and we understand that the GLA officers involved had been content with that. The report prepared by the GLA officer (Case Officer Ashley Russell) before the hearing recommended acceptance.

In the event, after hearing community objections (including support from Just Space on the grounds that the credibility of London Plan policies on affordability, density and building height would be threatened by a consent) the Mayor reflected and then said that he was refusing the scheme. This was a great victory. 

There are, however, two puzzling features of this case.

The Mayor’s oral decision emphasised the affordability of housing in the scheme, stressing that 30% fell short of his expectations and the requirements of the London Plan. He went on to say that the damage to the amenity caused by the additional building heights was not justified by the gain in affordable housing. However his written statement of refusal, issued a week or so after the hearing, does not discuss the affordability issues at all, focusing entirely on the bulk, massing and heritage impacts as grounds for refusal. This seems curious.

A second puzzle is how the Mayor’s viability experts came to agree to use a much higher ‘Baseline Land Value’ (BLV) for this ex-industrial site than they would have used if they were valuing it as industrial land. This higher value will have reduced the amount of ‘affordable’ housing that could ‘viably’ have been secured. But the whole point of the London Plan requirement that 50% of housing on ex-industrial land must be ‘affordable’ is that industrial land is much cheaper than residential land so developers can afford more. In their report the GLA valuers say §7.2 “Assessment of BLV … should normally be based on an assessment of the existing use value. However, given the limited demand for a brewery operation on this site, any value assessed on this basis would be negligible, and a landowner would be unlikely to dispose of the site on this basis. It is therefore appropriate to consider alternative approaches to assessing a minimum return at which a reasonable landowner would release the site.” Isn’t this giving away precisely the advantage which the former industrial use should have offered?  

Perhaps if, and when, a new scheme is developed for this very fine site, the GLA will take an even tougher line on affordability. But for the moment it is a good sign that the Mayor is prepared to stand up for affordable housing to this degree.

The future of Mayoral call-ins

The Planning and Regeneration committee of the London Assembly held an entire meeting on 9 November 2021 about citizen participation in these called-in cases. Just Space had taken an active part in the formulation of the meeting and recommended the format where multiple voices would express grassroots and other community views. Just Space and many of its member groups were present and able to contribute a strong community perspective to an excellent event. It is available to watch on YouTube (though not at the normal location on the GLA web site because of some technical breakdown). You need to scroll along to about 10 minutes to catch the start.  

More news to follow about this (next post) and future work with the Assembly on Opportunity Areas.

Participants on 9 November were
Hiba Ahmad, Save Nour, Brixton
Michael Bach, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies.
Mark Brearley, Vital OKR, Old Kent Road, Southwark
Tim Catchpole, Mortlake Brewery Community Group;
Clare Delmar, Listen to Locals;
Jerry Flynn, 35% Campaign, Elephant Amenity Network;
Yacob Ghebrekristos, Estate Watch
Richard Lee, Just Space;
Jonathan Moberly, East End Preservation Society;
Connor McNeil, Victorian Society;
Heloise Palin, Administrator, Spitalfields Trust;
Saif Osmani, Truman Brewery Campaigner;
Angus Robertson, Alton Action, Roehampton; 
Natalia Perez, Programme Co-Director, Latin Elephant;
Patria Roman-Velazquez, Chair of Trustees, Latin Elephant

Mayor to abolish Housing Panel amid protests

London Housing Panel

On the day when we are all remembering the Grenfell disaster, we are shocked to hear that the Mayor of London is to abolish the London Housing Panel —the one instrument we have to ensure that tenants and residents have a direct input to policy making. 

The London Housing Panel had its first meeting in June 2019.  Now the Greater London Authority says its work will only be funded up to March 2022 —less than three years from its launch.  We are asking the Mayor to think again and asking the other recipients of this letter to do your utmost to convince the GLA to continue co-funding the work of this unique and essential panel.

The Panel was established to provide voluntary and community groups with a structured way of engaging with the GLA in relation to housing policy and vice versa.  We are assured that the Mayor wants to make sure his housing policies are developed with the involvement of London’s diverse communities. 

In April 2020 the Panel called for commitment from the Mayor on these priorities:
1. Massively increase social housing supply
2. Support all Londoners to be heard and thrive
3. Take action on temporary accommodation 

At this time of greater housing insecurity for so many Londoners, we think the work of the Panel is needed more than ever.  Given the central importance of housing and of retrofit as London battles the climate emergency and the post-Covid recovery, it cannot be wise or politically sensible to scrap such a crucial institution.

The GLA needs to think again about this proposal.

Download full text of Just Space letter to the GLA:

Just Space activity June 2021

January – May 2021, posted 10 June

(This updates previous reports on 19th June 2020 and 18th January 2021)

Estate Watch

Tenants and residents from social housing estates under threat of demolition have attended meetings (by zoom) every 2 months.  Topics discussed have included: the role of independent tenant and leaseholder advisors, how do we win estate ballots, telling the stories of estates through videos and podcasts.

Thanks to LTF and Pablo Sendra’s Alton Estate project, a further 6 months funding has been obtained for estate watch, extending the project to the end 2021.

On 2nd June 2021, the Mayor of London declared a “retrofit revolution” with £10 billion to deliver “large scale low carbon upgrades to the capital’s social housing, whilst supporting the creation of green jobs.”  London will lead a new £3.5 million national centre of excellence to “help social housing providers access funding to make their homes fit for the future and protect the most vulnerable from cold, damp homes.”

Potential action: Could Just Space undertake campaign work directed at the Mayor of London/ London Assembly in support of the demands coming from Estates Watch meetings?  Can we propose a mechanism (e.g. community expert panel or London Assembly sub-group) to enable community groups to be involved in the retrofit initiatives at a strategic level.

Just Collaborate

Just Collaborate seeks greater levels of support from Universities for grassroots community groups. Registration as a limited company was achieved in April 2021, with Just Collaborate chosen as the name, since Collaborate had already been used.  The Directors are:  Mama D, Toby Laurent Belson, Shirley Hanazawa, Saif Osmani and Wilfried Rimensberger.

Just Collaborate is now setting up a bank account and various protocols.  Its first funded project is with Brunel University, to organise Action Learning Sets on decolonisation and power.  

Potential action: Is there interest by Just Space members in an Action Learning Set that looks at the experience of how power manifests itself within and between community organisations and Universities?

People’s Land Policy

A series of 4 seminars on “Land and Food” took place in February and March 2021.  The topics were: Post Brexit Agriculture, the UK food and agricultural system, urban food growing, the Global Food Justice Movement.  Just Space policy positions on food re – the 2019 London Plan EiP and the London Food Strategy were shared.  The outcome is a new chapter of the pamphlet Working Towards a People’s Land Policy (the chapter is currently in draft form).

Potential action: Policy ideas on Land and Food could be included in the Community Led Recovery Plan.  

New Lucas Plan / Climate Change Strategy

The New Lucas Plan group ran a session at the COP26 preparatory event in April, called From the Ground Up II.  Under the umbrella of New Lucas Plan, Just Space was invited to speak about the production of Community Led Plans.  

Potential action: Just Space and/or member groups might wish to formally register with the COP26 mobilisation From the Ground Up.  

Planning Aid for London

This organisation had been listed as a supporter of Just Space in our early days but became, in effect, dormant. A year ago it was re-floated, hosted by the Town and Country Planning Association TCPA and funded for the next few years at least by the Trust for London. It offers online and real life advice to individuals and groups dealing with the planning system, with a particular emphasis on building up long-term relationships with significant community organisations. At the moment these include Southwark Planning Network and Barking Reach (TWCP, where Just Space is also active).  There is a steering group with the following membership and a new web site at https://planningaidforlondon.org.uk

The steering group does seem to be listened to and is useful.  We can all help by suggesting documents and links to be added to their web site listing of resources – which is a London-specific pool of information. If you have generated useful material or come across it, please let PAL know (via their web site or via Michael Edwards)

Collective Community Action (CCA)

Launched in January 2021, this is a group of active citizens, built environment professionals, community engagement specialists, educators, consultants and social entrepreneurs coming together to discuss, communicate, provoke and propose the changes needed to ensure communities are at the heart of urban change for the better. Members include Soundings, Grosvenor, Ft’work architects, Manor House Development Trust, Creative Wick and Just Space members Hayes Community Forum and Peckham Vision. 

Much effort has been put into the glossy booklet advocating a Mayoral Statement of Community Involvement (MSCI) and Collaborative Community Training for those involved in educational, professional and public life on planning and engagement, together with good practice examples. Members then approached their known contacts within relevant ‘corridors of power’ particularly to have Mayoral candidates sign up to the MSCI.

Alongside this, Ft’work Trust funded work with Centre for London to develop and launch a ‘manifesto’ said to champion community involvement in the way London is built and managed.

CCA members tried to influence the content and Peckham Vision successfully had inserted ‘ongoing place-based audits’. This ‘Need for Change’ document was launched on 2 March as part of the policy ideas Mayoral candidates had approached the Centre for London for. An article subsequently appeared in the RTPI’s professional periodical (‘The Planner’ May 2021) featuring Eileen Conn on why ‘London needs a MSCI’.

Coincidentally, one of the ten planning-related promises in Sadiq Khan’s mayoral election manifesto was the ‘review how to further involve local communities in the planning decisions that affect them’.  London Assembly member Andrew Boff questioned the Mayor about this (Q-time 27 May) who replied that officers will be undertaking a full review of engagement processes ‘to give full effect to Policy (sic) GG1’, together with digital engagement, stakeholder mapping and learning from best practice.

Potential action: The MSCI is a long-standing ask of Just Space whose scope and content – as published in ‘Towards a Community-led Plan for London’ (PDF) and 2019 EiP – needs updating (e.g. to address digitisation) and re-proposed to the Mayor.

Grand Union Alliance (GUA)

Just Space was commissioned back in Spring 2016 by the London Tenants Federation (LTF) to help LTF deliver UCL Geography community-based research supporting the community network GUA in Old Oak Park Royal area (Mayoral Development Corporation OPDC). Since July 2019 onwards, JS inputs have continued voluntarily on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis whilst the OPDC prepared Modifications to its draft Local Plan as an attempt to satisfy the Planning Inspector’s Interim Findings in September 2019.

These Modifications are currently subject to public consultation and are being actively followed by GUA participants with a view to making representations by 7th July. Regular monthly public meetings are continuing in partnership with the Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum, whose reports can be seen at its website. Co-operation has extended to corresponding with the OPDC, HS2 and various planning applications.

Potential action: Prospects of an OPDC funded community support worker have now refocused on HS2 and other construction impacts rather than planning itself. For the foreseeable future, an un-resourced GUA, in order to continue, will need voluntary support from JS. The GUA is not in a position to become appropriately constituted to find funding.

A Just Space commitment to preparing a Community Handbook on influencing large scale planning as informed by GUA experiences could form part of the MSCI review (see CCA potential action above).

Listen to Locals
This group originates from a 15 year old campaign in Mortlake and is hoping to bring together people London-wide who are affected by planning policy and large developments. The aim was to have a Hustings on planning for the Mayoral election, which happened. Just Space co-hosted. Lucy Rogers represented Just Space in the preparations. See the Hustings video edit here https://www.listentolocals.co.uk/post/local-community-hustings-video-edit-by-just-space 

Following the Hustings, which was felt to be a success, Just Space (Lucy, Eileen, Michael) met with Listen to Locals (Clare Delmar) and Collective Community Action (Clare Richards) to discuss the scope for grassroots collaboration London-wide

Discussion point: To consider the benefits of this collaboration (e.g. communications to mobilise the public to challenge City Hall, campaign against new planning laws) and whether it provides an opportunity to reconfigure Just Space network meetings.