Conflict or cooperation? Looking back at the EiP
The Final Event
Three years into the life cycle of this Mayor’s London Plan – although the next election looms before we can be sure about its final form. It is time now to shift gear – from critiquing ‘his’ Plan to thinking about collaborative ways of improving outcomes from the process and finding a way of ‘failing better’ with the next one. In this final event we concentrate mainly on housing and land use planning issues as these are the main topics where we have taken part in the EiP. However, many of our concerns are just as relevant to the full spectrum of issues addressed in the draft Plan.
The EiP is done if not dusted, as far as we are concerned. It has been an interesting and comforting experience, in terms of open robust question/answer – and rigorous Panel questioning of GLA (officials); but it has not been a substitute for necessary and proper policy/political debate about key issues and alternatives before the draft was prepared, and with active engagement of the political leadership. Consultation is not a substitute.
The Plan itself is a sophisticated document, with a sympathetic set of objectives, a great deal of underlying documentation, and an immense amount of work both by GLA officials and by their consultants.
But the draft has proved both obfuscatory and unrealistic in relation to:
- consideration of alternative strategies which emerged as very limited both in terms of options considered and the evidence base deployed to assess them. Importantly the material presented scarcely built on the work done by the Outer London Commission.
- the likelihood of coming anywhere near satisfying housing need, with a strategy basically similar to its predecessors – which we now know not to have worked in terms of more adequate plan based delivery.
- the lack of any evident attempt to assess where we have got to in relation to earlier Plans and thus learn from past experience.
Importantly these core limitations have knock on effects for both the more qualitative dimensions of the draft Plan and its overall viability in terms of resources available for its implementation.
Understand the Tensions
Understanding how this situation has occurred is important if strategic planning is to get real into the future. Especially in the context of housing there appear to be three core relationship issues:
- the constraints placed on the Mayor by central government’s over-ambitious targets for housing delivery;
- in this context, the unwillingness of the Mayor to take on a wider leadership role vis-à-vis:
- developing realistic possibilities for achieving the Plan’s objectives, notably in relation to housing; and
- making clear to central government that targets cannot be met simply by pushing harder within existing policy constraints;
- the conflict between the Mayor’s understanding of his relationship with local authorities, which in this draft Plan appears to be particularly hands-on, and that of the local authorities in terms of their responsibilities and capacity to implement the Mayor’s objectives.
Whatever ‘soundness’ judgements the Panel comes to – whether to reject outright; ask for significant amendments; or accept the draft Plan with minor amendments – the repercussions and reactions are extremely uncertain – but need to be carefully thought through, by all those involved or affected.
To move on, we focussed the final event on three sets of relationships which reflect the tensions set out above and how these might be addressed.
GLA – Boroughs
A particular issue raised by the EiP was the appropriateness of the strategic/local division of labour – and whether this may even have become inverted (with GLA often specifying local procedures but leaving boroughs to carry responsibility for strategic failure).
But we also noticed the absence of any concerted response to this power grab from boroughs (or indeed from any but a few individually). Given the strategic responsibilities they are left with – by both the GLA and central government – and the limitations placed on their independence this seems unhealthy.
Moves toward collaboration have been slow and almost absent in relation to (what is) a shared problem of dealing with inelastic land supplies. There are also evident suspicions among those outside London that collaboration on infrastructure planning is intended to generate implied consent for ‘overspill’. Of particular importance is the fact that, while local authorities have a duty to co-operate (including now the preparation of a statement of common ground) as part of developing a local plan, the GLA has no such duty.
GLA – Central Government
A critical need is for something better than the continual rehearsal for a blame game that we have observed over the last months and years. What is required to move from this to collaboration in understanding the real (crucial) issues for substantially increasing delivery rates at both national and city level.
We looked forward to a lively debate.