The London Plan and the unglamorous world of planning policy


I’ve spent the best part of the last two years writing policies for the London Plan. Important policies, in my view, on health, social infrastructure, children and play. The things that matter to a lot of people. The results of those two years of work were published yesterday. I’m pretty happy with the finished draft.

Health is more strongly embedded in the plan than it was, with one of the strategic policies in chapter 1 titled ‘creating a healthy city’ and addressing the top level health inequalities across London. The Healthy Streets policy (T2) follows on from Transport for London’s work on this and starts to embed the principles of a city for people rather than cars into the plan, with a strong focus on walking and cycling. This unfortunately has replaced the walking policy, but there's still a cycling policy at least - phew! No mention of running as yet, but I’m working on it. Social Infrastructure policies are strong and more detailed in places (chapter 5). The Play and Informal Recreation policy (S4) now has clear links to accessible routes for children and young people, play provision that is an integral part of the surrounding neighbourhood, and the ability for a child to move around their neighbourhood safely and independently. This feels like a significant step forward form the previous plan, although for those who have been working in the field of children and play for a while, they may feel more like it's a step back to over ten years ago and Ken Livingstone's London Plan. In any case, we are now moving in the right direction again.

At over 500 pages, this isn’t a document that the masses will read and, of course, that was never the intention. It’s not exactly a page turner (has any policy document ever been?), although the cover looks quite nice. Its readership is generally confined to those who think they have something to say about it, or those who are forced to. Hopefully, planners in London, architects and developers will read these policies though. Will they understand their full meaning though and know how to implement them? It’s certainly not a given, and any additional guidance to support the policies and that may help people in their implementation will inevitably follow on behind the policies themselves.

Ultimately, this is not a snazzy brochure or PR document for the Mayor’s latest strategy - this is a formal planning document. A document that now has to go through near two years of public scrutiny before it can formally adopted as planning policy. If you want to respond to the consultation, you have to do so on the basis of the ‘tests of soundness’ - successfully putting many people off from having their say. There is no glamour in this. The excitement that has arisen in a some of us over the last few days as the draft was published, will have most definitely subsided by the time the final version of the plan is due for publication, after we have spent near enough another two years scrutinising the thing word by word.

I just hope that after all that scrutiny, the key phrases that are important to me remain and don’t get negotiated out either intentionally not. And if it can be improved through the consultation process then that would be great. We can then figure out how to implement the thing and actually make a difference (or start all over again if a new Mayor is elected…).