The City of London Corporation is working on its new local plan, the snappily-titled City Plan 2036.
A full draft is expected in June 2018. The plan will cover everything from spatial development and the future of the five ‘Key City Places’ to sustainability, culture and housing.
Much has changed in the three years since the City of London adopted its current plan, so here are ten things on the Corporation’s mind.
1. Competing post-Brexit
Whatever the short-term impact of leaving the European Union, the City expects to compete and prosper over the next few decades. Uncertainty about Brexit gives more weight to these aspects of the local plan and, perhaps, to greater flexibility. The Square Mile needs the right development, digital infrastructure, facilities and services over the 18-year timespan to 2036. Its competition is global, but in seeking advantages, one eye will also be kept on Canary Wharf.
2. Two mayors
There are two Mayors of London, with the Lord Mayor taking priority in City terms, but not in planning policy. Sadiq Khan’s London Plan is a detailed document which will influence the City Plan 2036 process including views on tall buildings of the sort the City favours.
3. Who, what, where?
Early consultation on the plan’s scope mooted a new ‘Commercial Core’ for offices, with more variety outside it. It also raised questions around the flexibility of floorplates and the offer to smaller firms. What to build depends on whom you want to attract – the heavy emphasis on financial services should remain, but other sectors and uses are getting a hearing. New hotels are still a contested topic.
4. Going high
When space is limited, going up is always an answer, and it’s been promoted with enthusiasm. An unprecedented 13 towers are scheduled for the next 8 years, including ‘The Trellis’ at 1 Undershaft, ‘The Scalpel’ at 52 Lime Street and the plainer, but 278m high ‘TwentyTwo’ Bishopsgate.
The Eastern Cluster is still the obvious spot for tall buildings, serviced by the arrival of the Elizabeth Line. Whether there is an appetite for more towers – in terms of market demand as much as the Corporation itself – is an open question.
5. Rooftop recreation
However long the hours they spend at their desks, additional workers require additional space and more permeable streets. The Square Mile can measure its open space in square metres. Although larger buildings often create space and cut-throughs at ground level to ease footfall, when it comes to recreation, the City’s answer is to stay on top. Roof space can take the strain for employees, with the current trend for gardens in the sky reinforced by planning policy.
6. River wares
A much improved and diversified retail offer, particularly in centres like Moorgate, has been a notable change. While the rise in online shopping continues, convenience and destinations matter. Destinations also hold the prospect of weekend trading, still rare across much of the City.
The river remains the great, underexploited feature. The Corporation is pondering “a greater concentration of uses that add vibrancy, such as retail and leisure uses, as has happened on the South Bank” – waste transfer from Walbrook Wharf notwithstanding.
7. Breathing in
Congestion continues, but air quality is now a hot topic and part of Sadiq Khan’s advertising blitz. It’s not just vehicles, which are already being targeted by the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Construction work creates particulate matter. Heating and cooling systems increase emissions. One potential response is delivery and freight consolidation, although this is challenging to implement.
8. Rattle and roll
The cultural hub is the focus for diversifying the City’s offer and enhancing its appeal. Moving the Museum of London into a spectacular new building at Smithfield will bring new visitors, while vacating a prime, but poorly designed site.
Sir Simon Rattle already has one world-class concert hall to his credit in Birmingham and is determined to add another, freeing the London Symphony Orchestra from the confines and acoustics of the Barbican. Funding the project is the Corporation’s challenge. It’s not the cheapest way to improve the night-time economy.
9. Residing concerns
For a group of just 8,000 people, the permanent residents of the City of London are the most influential in the capital, whether plutocrats or social renters. Their number is projected to reach five figures over the course of the City Plan, through smaller sites rather than resi towers.
The draft London Plan sets a low bar of 146 new homes a year. This should be easy to sustain, but the demands around developers’ contributions are more problematic. Satisfying the GLA could require the City to divert all of its cash for affordable housing into neighbouring boroughs, where it would fund significantly more units. The Corporation’s purchase of flats in Kensington Row for Grenfell survivors may, in its geographical outreach, be a marker of things to come.
10. Party act
Party politics are regarded as gauche within the City of London Corporation, where neutrality takes the form of understatement. Political sympathies are for explicit exercise elsewhere. When a group of younger Conservatives won some by-elections on the party ticket a few years ago, they were swiftly removed at the main event.
The elections in May 2017 upset this norm. The Labour Party went from one to five members, who are now politicising with gusto, attacking the other 95 councillors for “enjoying three-course lunches and subsidised claret while we have been cutting services”.
For the first time, there will be internal, political opposition to a City Plan. Given a Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who describes the Corporation as a “rotten borough”, this is uncharted territory.
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