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Friday01 August 2014

100 Public Spaces axed in London design shake-up

Shelved: Richard MacCormac’s Victoria Embankment project.
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Flagship programme abandoned as Design for London subsumed into development agency

Plans to transform London’s urban realm through the mayor’s 100 Public Spaces programme have been abandoned and the 18-month-old organisation Design for London subsumed into a larger “land and infrastructure” directorate.

Following BD’s revelation last month that new mayor Boris Johnson had dropped the flagship scheme to pedestrianise Parliament Square, a senior GLA source confirmed this week that the 100 Public Spaces programme will not be pursued further.

“As an entity, the 100 Public Spaces programme won’t be known as that any more,” the source said. “Some projects will be taken forward and some others may not. That’s what I heard [deputy mayor] Simon Milton say… he said there is no point in having 100 when not all are going to go ahead.”

Many prominent schemes, including Richard MacCormac’s Victoria Embankment project, are set to be shelved, although others such as Farrell’s Tottenham Court Road proposal are expected to go ahead as stand-alone projects.

The programme has been dogged by slow delivery, with just five projects completed to date, six years after it was launched by then mayor Ken Livingstone.

Meanwhile, 100 Public Spaces sponsor Design for London, which was repeatedly accused in BD of favouring a select group of practices, today becomes part of a far larger body within the London Development Agency, led by DfL director Peter Bishop.

These latest moves cast further doubt over the future role of DfL chairman Richard Rogers, a fervent advocate of transforming London into a pedestrianised city akin to those in continental Europe.

The advisory group he chaired at DfL has been scrapped in favour of a smaller panel of experts advising the mayor directly. Despite meeting Johnson last week, Rogers has yet to accept an offer to join it.

Tory London Assembly member Tony Arbour, who last year oversaw an inquiry into DfL, said it would lead to greater efficiency.

”My problem with DfL and Rogers was that he was chairman of DfL and an adviser to the mayor, so he was giving advice to himself… I was not convinced there should be a single… direction for London’s new buildings.”

Will Alsop, a critic of DfL in the past, said: “On the face of it, it sounds a retrogressive step. But if [100 Public Spaces] is abandoned, I suspect they will find some other way of delivering the spaces.”

Of DfL he added: “I think they had a very narrow view of architecture, resulting in rather bland modernism in many cases.”

Bishop’s new directorate, which has a £70-80 million budget compared with DfL’s £3.2 million, will take responsibility for area planning, land holdings, and environmental and climate change programmes at the LDA, which is itself under review.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Vic Embankment will probably be shelved because of a lack of s106 funding. TCR, which was my project until I left Design for London, will go ahead because there is so much concentrated development in the area - six development sites, a crossrail station and underground station redevelopment. The main obstacles to delivering TCR are political but the project also carries high value so long as consensus between English Heritage, Mayors Office, Westminster and Camden can be achieved. In my opinion, the lack of funding for these projects isn't any Mayors fault, it’s a result of a blunt edged planning system that directs funding where there is money to be made, not where it can make a social difference. Ken Livingstone was working with the planning system to deliver public space projects where he could attract and stimulate developer interest in areas of social need. Given I met Ken on a near monthly basis to report on TCR, I formed the opinion that he was a very cunning player. I think Boris is obtuse by comparison. Re: Wil Alsops comments, I think there are probably more Wil Alsop critics out there than Design for London critics. The funding problem isn't going to change and so the decision to shelve the Mayors 100 Spaces is probably overdue. I think we need dual funding streams for development in the UK. In addition to the current s106 system, more use could be made of lottery funding for example to deliver public space projects where the social need is greatest. As far as s106 funding is concerned, I think developers should be compelled to provide rentable floor area as part of the s106 funding package. The rents can then be used to pay for maintenance of those spaces. Unfortuately in my experience developers are very reluctant to offer any longer term committment to public space beyond providing a capital sum.

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