London’s Industrial Land: Cause for concern

Cedar Way Ind Estate

Members of Just Space Economy and Planning (JSEP), Jessica Ferm and Edward Jones (Bartlett School of Planning, UCL), have recently completed a working paper, London’s Industrial Land: Cause for Concern, which will be presented at the JSEP seminar on 15 January 2015 at The Cass, Aldgate [Later: the paper can now be downloaded here Ferm Jones London’s Industrial Land – working paper final ]

The starting point of the paper is a concern with the on-going loss of industrial land in London, over and above targets for ‘managed release’ set in various iterations of the London Plan, and the potential impacts of the recent Further Alterations to the London Plan, which facilitate further release of industrial land in new designated Opportunity Areas and around transport nodes, in order to accommodate London’s future housing needs. The paper provides a wide-ranging review of research – including academic studies, think-tank and consultants’ reports, employment land reviews and business surveys – and draws on further evidence and examples across London, to argue that:

  • The nature of manufacturing is changing, but is still thriving and important for London’s future growth – the loss of manufacturing in London in recent years has primarily been due to real estate speculation rather than deindustrialisation.
  • Aside from manufacturing and core industrial uses, a range of other activities and businesses occupy premises on industrial land, benefiting from its relative affordability and lack of proximity to housing.  
  • Together these activities provide vital support to London’s economy and residents, and contribute to London’s diversity, vibrancy and overall status as a World City – as London continues to grow, it will need more (not less) of these goods and services.  
  • Businesses occupying premises on industrial land are locally dependent and part of a delicate local industrial ecology, where suppliers, customers and employees rely on a network of interdependent relationships.  Disrupting this can have far reaching consequences.
  • The move away from separating industrial land towards mixed use in London’s built environment – both on ideological grounds and in response to housing need – will have negative consequences, both for the well-being of Londoners, and for London’s sustainability.

The on-going loss of London’s industrial land is therefore a cause for concern: London’s broader economy and population will suffer if the current policy trajectory is not revised. There is urgency to this. The UK Government has proposed to further deregulate the planning system to facilitate conversion of industrial land to housing without the need for planning permission.  Concern is particularly acute in London where land value differentials between industrial and residential use are likely to drive redevelopment if Permitted Development Rights are extended.

During the course of preparing this paper, JSEP has convened seminars and conferences on London’s economy, where it has become evident that the issue of London’s industrial land is of real concern to members.   These events, the email forum for the group, as well as some of the written evidence compiled by members in response to the Further Alterations to the London Plan (GLA, 2014a), have helped to frame the research questions, contribute to the evidence base and provide leads to other studies and data. The contributions of the group have been invaluable to the production of the paper, but equally it is envisaged that the paper will provide a springboard for further research activity in the group.

For further queries, ideas or comments, please contact Jessica Ferm at j.ferm@ucl.ac.uk. 

Strong criticism in community responses to plan

Community groups across London are releasing the comments they submitted on 10 April to City Hall on the Mayor’s draft Further Alterations to the London Plan FALP. #FALP14

A common thread in the responses is that the plan will be a waste of paper because it doesn’t begin to meet the housing implications of growth while it welcomes the growth itself. A linked problem is the way the plan fans the flames of land and property speculation which in turn impoverishes the majority of Londoners while enriching a minority and sprinkling skyscrapers along the river and in arbitrary spots elsewhere.

The Mayor has been shifting the emphasis of his housing policy away from those in the greatest need – and indeed from most average Londoners – for years. In his last round of alterations to the London Plan he followed government instructions to scrap ‘social-rented’ housing and use the new concept that rents up to 80% of local market levels shall be deemed – and named – “affordable”. He even took power to forbid Boroughs from setting lower rent levels within their areas.  The London Assembly was so incensed that—quite exceptionally—it voted to reject that Plan. Unfortunately, however, a 2/3 majority would have been needed for the Plan to fall. The changes proposed in this 2014 set of Alterations further shift the emphasis of policy away from London’s real needs.

Other comments on the plan include calls for much more decisive action on air quality and climate change, stronger defence of jobs in industrial zones and suburban centres and much more effective democracy in which local councils meet their people’s needs rather than—as so often—just siding with developers and displacing low- and middle-income communities.

Submissions made to City Hall are available here, as they come in.