Last night I was fortunate enough to be part of a select gathering talking about the future of London. For everyone outside London reading this, don’t switch off…this blog is not going to be a lengthy analysis of London’s problems. We had been invited by Joy Lo Dico, an Evening Standard journalist locking to do an article on the issues surrounding the built environment that the London mayoral candidates needed to be giving their views on. Health and education have dominated the agenda so far and there was a feeling that other important issues needed airing.
Throughout the evening we discussed many wide ranging issues from the green belt to garden cities, and from the future of the black cab to taxation and policy (which is why you may be relieved that I am not going to rehash all that in this blog).
What struck me after the evening was how the problems facing London are not only tied up with much of the rest of the UK – something we have all known for a very long time – but how the new Mayor will have the opportunity to try potentially quite radical solutions to deal with these problems and show the rest of the country what is possible.
Many of the problems facing us today are ultimately the fault of a mindset. The concept of the ‘perceived wisdom’ entrenches us all in a set of principles that restrict what can be achieved.
- ‘You’ll never solve the housing crisis in London because property is too sound an investment’
- ‘You’ll never increase levels of cycling because riding on Britain’s roads is too scary’
…to use two well worn examples. The list is endless. Yet these problems are all driven by certain perceived wisdoms:
- ‘Everyone should own their own home’
- ‘The motor car will always be the dominant way of moving around’
Dare one say it but these perceived wisdoms have been entrenched by a so-called ‘golden age’ since the 1950s. One of the discussions we had was around how a lot of our leaders – in government and industry – are from the baby-boomer generation that have lived through this time. Jobs for life, final salary pensions, property increasing exponentially in value. There is a sense that as these people retire and a new generation takes over, the narrative will change. The concept of a father working part-time so he can care for his children, even though he is the company CEO, will become an accepted ‘norm’. And if you believe that change is needed then perhaps you should celebrate because this will create an opportunities for change.
Equally, much change is likely to happen when problems we see today reach a chronic stage. Bear in mind that the average age of the first-time buyer has increased from 29 to 39 in less than a decade. How many current children will be able to afford their own home when they become young adults, or even middle-aged adults? And perhaps more interestingly, how many will be prepared to pay an ever larger proportion of their income to a private landlord that was lucky enough, perhaps simply by inheritance, to own a property which they could make money from? After all, it is not as if they can rely on a fat pension pot when they retire (at whatever age that may be). They need to save but the price of housing will make that increasingly impossible. So could a time come when a disaffected generation of young workers revolt against the system? It may sound unlikely but unless this country comes to terms with the need to make ‘lifetime renting’ – with security of tenure and some form of control on rental cost inflation – a social norm then it is not out of the question.
These are just some of the issues that are facing the country over the next generation and they are already extremely acute in London. The increasing deregulation of the planning system coupled with George Osbourne’s attack on welfare could have very detrimental effects. The planning system needs to pick up the baton and fight for a return to a system where we plan properly for communities.
Thankfully I’m not alone in this belief. I have been in conversation with Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association in recent weeks, another contributor to our evening with the Evening Standard. Just as I have been collecting my thoughts on the state of planning today, so has the TCPA. It has recently launched Planning4People , a coalition of organisations and individuals who share a common belief in the value of place making to achieve a just and sustainable future. Navigus is proud to be one of those organisations and I’ll be blogging about our activities over the coming months. In short, the guiding principles of Planning4People are that planning should be:
- democratic and fair with people at the heart of the process;
- guided by a powerful definition of sustainable development which emphasises social justice as a key outcome;
- powerful so it can regulate change; and
- responsible, so that it meets the basic needs of those who struggle most today, without restricting the ability of future generations to live decent lives.
And this brings us back to the London Mayor. Whoever is elected London Mayor on 5th May 2016 will be in a rare position. They will be arguably the most powerful figure in public office outside the Cabinet. This gives them a genuine opportunity to challenge the Government on issues that matter, issues of fairness and social justice. And so much of this comes back to planning. If the Mayor can blaze a trail to show that a different approach – challenging the perceived wisdoms – actually works, then maybe we can see that benefit starting to influence matters across the rest of the country.
I’ll be blogging more in the next few months about social justice issues and how planning needs to step up and address them for the good of communities everywhere.