The new mayor of London faces huge challenges, as far as the built environment is concerned
By tomorrow morning London should be ready to declare a new mayor. As the capital’s citizens prepare to cast their votes today, Labour’s Sadiq Kahn was the pollsters’ strong favourite to enter City Hall, consistently coming out ahead of Tory rival Zac Goldsmith in last minute polls. Even as the votes are counted, however, what’s already clear from a built environment perspective is the scale of challenge that will greet the new man in charge.
With the already teeming capital projected to become home to another 1.4 million people by 2030, London offers, writ large, an example of the challenges facing cities across the UK. The new mayor will be expected to lead huge growth in housing supply, and upgrade transport and social infrastructure that is bursting at the city’s seams. Crucially, he must do both of these at the same time as driving regeneration, and creating an interconnected built environment that allows the whole city, not just pockets of it, to become a centre for regional economic growth.
One of the many high-profile figures with whom the mayor will cross paths in pursuing this elusive goal is Tory grandee Michael Heseltine, whose recent appointment as head of a Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission follows swiftly on from being named as chair of the government’s drive to regenerate deprived council estates, and as a member of the National Infrastructure Commission.
The new mayor will be expected to lead huge growth in housing supply, and upgrade transport and social infrastructure that is bursting at the city’s seams. Crucially, he must do both of these at the same time as driving regeneration
Linking the built environment’s various challenges together is core to Heseltine’s philosophy of how the physical environment can be used to drive growth; a philosophy he has espoused since setting up development corporations in Merseyside and Docklands in the 1980s. And Heseltine’s numerous roles will give him an obvious advantage in spotting chances to create this “place-based economics”, as he terms it in an interview with Building this week (see here).
Doing so is, however, an even bigger ask where political structures and individual remits do not readily link those challenges - housing, infrastructure, education provision - together. Persuading the various organisations that are stakeholders in London’s built environment to think and plan in this way must be central to the mayor’s approach.
The new mayor will also need to knit together a range of funding types if he is to stand any chance of driving the growth that London needs - even though some private sector financing may be met with suspicion by local boroughs.
With this in mind, it is worth casting a glance behind the headlines in Scotland recently, to the woeful saga of 17 schools forced to close following defects in construction. The media has made much of the fact these are PFI schools, with the failings used as another stick with which to beat the controversial funding method, and lambast the council which signed up to it. However, the faults in the construction of the schools are issues with the supply chain, not the procurement method - which has, ironically, offered some financial protection for the client over maintenance work now required.
Nestling within the mayor’s epic to-do list, however, will be one welcome gift: Transport for London’s (TfL) £3.6bn development pipeline. This is not just because of its scale, but because it is centred on the interlinked development of transport interchanges, commercial clusters and housing.
That pipeline provides a ready-made platform to advocate an intertwined approach to the built environment’s challenges. The new mayor’s test will be to capitalise on this opportunity - not just with TfL’s land, but by embedding a fresh, more strategic approach across London’s development as a whole.
Sarah Richardson, editor