“Gleaming skyscrapers built alongside medieval churches”

The City in 2013. Image: Getty.

The Corporation of London’s chair of planning, on the future of the City.

The capital faces a turbulent few weeks as the long-running Brexit saga plays out in Westminster and Brussels.  But amid this political drama, it’s important to not lose sight of how London is transforming itself for life beyond Brexit.

The City of London embodies this process, with gleaming skyscrapers being built alongside medieval churches.  Our draft local plan – which is open for public consultation until later this week – sets out proposals designed to deliver the next stage of the Square Mile’s evolution.

The City’s planning policy has not only historically led the capital’s agenda but the nation’s. In the 1930s, we were the first to protect the cherished views of St Paul’s Cathedral, London followed. In the 1950s, we were the first to introduce a smokeless zone after the great smog, with the City’s Clean Air Act followed by a national Act.

Today, the City of London is already home to the most sustainable office building in the world, Bloomberg’s European headquarters. But as a business district with a pipeline of more than a dozen office skyscrapers approved for construction, some of which can house up to 12,000 workers at a time, we know that there is more that can be done to enable development that is environmentally sustainable.

We started at the top. With limited space available at ground level, we’ve actively encouraged green roofs for decades. There are over 70 across the Square Mile and just over a week ago reaching new heights with The Garden at 120, a project that has been in the works since 2006.

Of course, great cities are not made from great buildings alone. Our proposed urban greening policy reflects that. It requires – for the first time – that all new developments include a greening element, but this extends not just to roofs, but to the ground level spaces around buildings, and, to the buildings themselves.

With 513,000 workers commuting in and out of the City every day, and tens of thousands more expected on the completion of the Elizabeth Line, part of the challenge for this great city is space. Businesses and residents frequently raise the issue of overcrowding on our medieval streets.

We have made significant progress when it comes to making the City a better environment for pedestrians. For example, the 1960s Aldgate gyratory is now home to drinking fountains, trees, flowing traffic and cycling facilities at Aldgate Square, one of the largest public spaces in the Square Mile.

The City’s local plan proposals take this pursuit of space even further, so that walking routes will be available through and under new buildings – similar to the existing routes through One New Change, Bloomberg and Fen Court and the future 100 Leadenhall Street building, and the space under buildings such as the Cheesegrater and the approved 1 Undershaft. This will enable the workers that pour out of their office buildings at lunch time, to use convenient and direct routes between the incredible examples of architecture that line our City streets. You won’t see this on such a scale anywhere else in London.

These are some of the most uncertain times that we’ve lived through, and our draft local plan is designed to ensure that the City and wider London remains attractive to investment, talent and business well beyond 29 March.

Chris Hayward is planning chairman at the City of London Corporation.


Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.

At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.