The focus on housing and design quality is largely positive says Thomas Lane

T Lane

There is much to welcome in the draft London plan. It is a comprehensive, detailed document that takes a holistic approach towards meeting the challenge of delivering 66,000 homes a year for the next 20 years. It moves from the strategic – including asking all of the London boroughs to set housing targets for the next 10 years – to the particular, such as identifying and encouraging developments on small sites with a presumption in favour of planning and scrapping one-size-fits-all density rules so more homes can be built near transport nodes.

Favouring development on large, under-used spaces, including retail and leisure areas, could provide many new homes, an approach already being adopted by British Land and Sellar at Surrey Quays, an area well served by public transport.

The attention given to design quality is very refreshing – the hand of the mayor’s design advisory group is very evident here.

Encouraging more detailed designs to be submitted at planning stage is a good thing and should help to reduce the number of schemes that are almost unrecognisable from that originally granted consent because of multiple “minor” amendments. This agenda neatly dovetails with the greater emphasis on BIM and the need to use offsite manufacturing techniques to combat looming skills shortages.

The suggestion that local authorities could insist on architects being retained from early design stage through to project completion as a condition of planning is a bold move. In theory this should help to promote design quality by reducing the opportunity for value engineering by executive architects employed by design-and-build contractors.

But it could have a significant impact on the profession. While there are architects capable of taking on jobs from start to finish, the market has been splitting into architects specialising in concept design and obtaining planning and those who do the more detailed, technical work.

This could mean a shuffling of the deck in the London architectural market – concept architects will need technically skilled architects to take designs on beyond concept stage and executive architects could struggle if concept work isn’t being handed down to them.

The other issue is procurement – contractors won’t take kindly to losing influence over design and buildability and being stuck with an architect not of their choosing, which could have an impact on prices.

Another welcome development is the mayor’s intention to work with the boroughs on a strategic overview of the location of tall buildings and incorporate this into individual borough’s development plans.

How these proposals pan out in practice depends on how well they are received – Londoners have until 2 March to respond to the consultation and influence how the capital’s built environment evolves over the next 20 years.