The Olympics are nearly upon us, and along with sporting achievements and entertainment, comes the opportunity for short and long term regeneration and renewal of some of London’s most deprived areas. Once all the excitement and furore of the event has died down, what will happen to the East of London that has played host to the games?  Will the long term ambitious regeneration goals be achieved?

Olympic Legacy Supplementary Planning Guidance

Following the close of the consultation period last week, the Mayor of London will shortly publish the final version of the Olympic Legacy Supplementary Planning Guidance which sets out the Mayor’s views on how the Olympic Park and surrounding areas should change over the next 20 years.  The overarching planning strategy - the Spatial Development Strategy - for London is set out in the London Plan 2011. This provides the economic, environmental, transport and social framework for the development of the capital to 2031. The London Plan capitalises on the potential of the Olympic and Paralympic games to provide economic and social change in East London, which is widely acknowledged as an area in real need of regeneration. The four ‘host’ Boroughs in London are the London Boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Hackney, all of which have high levels of deprivation. Indeed, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney are the three local authorities with the highest score on the indices of multiple deprivation across England. The Olympic Legacy and regeneration project is described in the London Plan as “London’s single most important regeneration project for the next 25 years.” The vision in the Guidance is to use the legacy of the Olympics to make “all of east London a place where people will choose to settle and stay, rather than move away from, as their circumstances change”.  

The Guidance focuses on five areas of development; homes and communities, business and employment, connectivity and transport, urban form, and sustainable development, with a common theme of ‘convergence’. Convergence is described as London’s key strategic challenge and is a concept that has been introduced to reduce the inequalities between those London Boroughs that have been specifically targeted for regeneration and those surrounding it. The host Boroughs will need to develop planning strategies that bring about changes wider than the Olympic Park and will benefit the communities in their Boroughs for years to come. 

How will the regeneration be delivered?

The Mayor of London, using powers granted by the Localism Act 2011, has created a Mayoral Development Corporation that will be responsible for the regeneration legacy that will follow on from the Olympics. The Mayoral Development Corporation will exercise its powers over the area designated as a Mayoral development area, which covers the Olympic Park and surrounding area.

Mayoral Development Corporations are a new type of public body which, like more traditional Urban Development Corporations, are set up to promote regeneration and economic development and have planning and compulsory purchase powers. Unlike Urban Development Corporations, however, Mayoral Development Corporations are directly accountable to the Mayor of London – and therefore accountable to the people of London through the Mayor, rather than central Government. As a statutory body, the Mayoral Development Corporation will also have new duties such as openness with board meetings, and publically held decision-making committee meetings.

The London Legacy Development Corporation (Establishment) Order 2012 has now been laid before Parliament and will come into force on 9 March 2012. The new Mayoral Development Corporation will be known as the London Legacy Development Corporation which will come into existence on 1 April 2012. It will take over from and continue the work of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, be responsible for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and surrounding areas, as well as some of the assets, and the duties of existing regeneration agencies in the area. In October 2012, the Legacy Corporation will also take over planning powers from London Thames Gateway Development Corporation and the Olympic Delivery Authority. The Legacy Corporation will have a wider remit, covering a wider area, and have a stronger focus on regeneration, as well as maintaining the Olympic Park. Planning powers, including the power to set planning policy and take planning decisions, will support and enable this. Currently, only this one Mayoral Development Corporation has been created and there is the general feeling that there will not be many, or any, more.

The Guidance suggests a variety of different mechanisms to achieve its aims, including working with private landowners to encourage investment, using public sector land, ensuring planning applications are determined to achieve the Guidance’s aims, compulsory purchase where negotiation has failed and central Government investment.

Addressing the housing shortage

As the lack of new, high quality and affordable housing is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed across London and is seen as a “big ticket” electoral issue for the Mayor, there is a great deal of new housing proposed within the host Boroughs. The Guidance identifies the potential for around 29,000 new homes and the Olympic Park Legacy Company has already submitted a planning application to the Olympic Delivery Authority for five new neighbourhoods on the 64-hectare Olympic Park site. The plans are for up to 6,800 new homes of which up to 2,400 will be classed as affordable homes. The Guidance also seeks to create ‘Lifetime Neighbourhoods’ which are intended to be new communities which have a blend of housing, shops, employment, transport and social and community infrastructure.  New housing will consist of a mix of size and tenure with a focus on maximising affordable housing, utilising the Government’s “Affordable Rent scheme” which was introduced last year, and taking into account viability and available funding.

The enduring legacy

The Guidance itself acknowledges that implementing its policies and achieving its targets will not be straight forward given the uncertainty of future resources, the multiple agencies involved and the considerable length of time over which the policies are to be applied.  The main players who will be responsible for overseeing the Guidance include the Mayor of London, the four host London Boroughs, numerous local government and administrative bodies, and the private and voluntary sectors to name a few. Usefully in this situation, the Localism Act promotes co-operation between local planning authorities, but perhaps not so usefully drills down planning to a neighbourhood level, which may add yet another layer of complexity.

It is hoped that the Olympics really do have a positive twenty year effect upon the regeneration of the East of London, but it is of course a concern, once the spotlight has moved away, that a lack of funding coupled with a lack of political impetus will stymie these ambitious plans. The economic climate of the last few years has certainly seen planning authorities having to revisit the amount of affordable housing and revise the variety of tenures to be provided by developers. Even the Affordable Rent Scheme’s long term viability has been questioned and it seems that a permanent, yet flexible, funding solution is needed to achieve housing and regeneration aims. If the ambitions of the Guidance are to be met long term, then there needs to be a dedication of resources and enthusiasm that will continue long after the cheering crowds have receded.