The Landscape Guide

The Greater London Authority's 2004 London Plan

London Landscape Plans: 1829, 1900, 1929, 1943, 1951, 1969, 1976, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2000, 2004, London landscape architecture, London's Green Infrastructure.

The GLA coordinates land use planning across the whole of Greater London and issues a strategic plan; the London Plan. The 32 London Borough councils are legally bound to comply with the plan and the mayor can over-ride planning decisions made by the Boroughs if they are against the interests of London as a whole. The 3 primary aims of the 2004 London Plan were given as 'growth, equity and sustainable development'. The third of these aims is further explained as making London 'a more attractive, well-designed and green city'. This is simply expressed but more sophisticated than the 1943 objective of 'Adequate open space for both recreation and rest is a vital factor in maintaining and improving the health of the people'. A future London Landscape Plan should have the declared objective of making London into a Garden and Landscape Capital among the great cities of the world - no comparable city has a physical structure, a natural climate or a garden-mad population with equal enthusiasm for the task. As the illustrations in the London Landscape Guide reveal, the task has been in hand for generations. We already have competitions for the Best Kept Village in England. We should prepare for a future Best Kept Capital City competition.

Review of landscape planning policy in the 2004 London Plan

The section on open space begins with a dreary re-iteration of the policies Tom Turner criticised in 1992:

  • remedy open space deficiencies (based on the outmoded concept of open space standards)
  • protect the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land (they 'protect' land from development but do little else)
  • establish a hierarchy of open spaces of different size (an irrelevant idea)
  • establish Green Chains (they interlink parks - which no more useful than linking cinemas or restaurants)
  • promote biodiversity (a worthy concept with few consequences)

All the above are ex-GLC policies and one can understant their sentimental appeal toKen Livingstone. As the last leader of the Greater London Council and the first Mayor of London, he was anxious to establish the continuity between the 2 organizations. But there are also some new and welcome elements in the 2004 London Plan:

  • The Blue Ribbon Policy (see below), for London's water space, is a brilliant addition to the capital's set of landscape planning policies. From 1950-2000 the River Thames was not regarded as a 'public open space'
  • There is a new emphasis on walking and cycling
  • Civic spaces, such as squares, piazzas and market squares now form part of London's open space network
  • An Ambient Noise Strategy introduced the concept of Areas of Relative Tranquillity.(3.245)
  • There is encouragment and support for 'a thriving agricultural sector in London'.
  • Individual borough plans are required to prepare Open Space Strategies to protect, create and enhance all types of open space in their area.

These are significant improvements to London's landscape planning and could create the conditions for excellent landscape architecture. 'The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason' (T. S. Eliot, Murder in the cathedral ). A study of London open space planning from 1950-2000 leads to a different conclusion: '' The last temptation is a greater treason: to do the wrong deed for the right reason'. We give the following examples:

  • London cycle planning: they had the right aim ('improve conditions for cycling') but did the wrong deed.
  • London riverside planning: they have spoiled many sections of river in the interests of improving access to water
  • London's green chain policy: the excellent Abercrombie objective of making a network of open space was replaced by the useless policy of interlink parks (if your origin lies within a park then your destination is unlikely to be 'another park'

Summary of the 2004 London Plan policies relating to open space, walking, cycling, and water space

Improving London’s open environment (Chapter 3, Part D 4)

Policy 3D.10 Open space provision in UDPs UDP policies should:

  • identify broad areas of public open space deficiency and priorities for addressing them on the basis of audits carried out as part of an open space strategy, and using the open space hierarchy set out in Table 3D.1 as a starting point
  • ensure that future open space needs are considered in planning policies for Opportunity Areas and other areas of growth and change in their area
  • encourage functional and physical linkages within the network of open spaces and to the wider public realm, improve accessibility for all throughout the network and create new links based on local and strategic need
  • identify, promote and protect Green Corridors and Green Chains and include appropriate designations and policies for the protection of local open spaces that are of value, or have the potential to be of value, to local communities.

Improving conditions for walking in London (Policy 3C.20)

  • ensure that safe, convenient, accessible and direct pedestrian access is provided from new developments to public transport nodes and key land uses, taking account of the need to connect people to jobs, to town centres and to schools
  • identify, complete and promote high quality walking routes including the six strategic walking routes identified in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy
  • ensure that Thames-side developments incorporate provision for a riverside walkway in accordance with Countryside Agency standards
  • ensure that the pedestrian environment is accessible to disabled people
  • take account of measures set out in the TfL Walking Plan for London
  • improve the safety and convenience of pedestrian routes to school.

Improving conditions for cycling in London (Policy 3C.21)

  • identify and implement high quality, direct, cycling routes, where possible segregated from motorised traffic, giving access to public transport nodes, town centres and key land uses
  • ensure that routes are segregated from pedestrians as far as practicable, but are not isolated
  • identify, complete and promote the relevant sections of the London Cycle Network Plus, and other cycling routes
  • take account of measures identified in the TfL Cycling Action Plan
  • encourage provision of sufficient, secure cycle parking facilities within developments.

Improving London's water space (Section 4C): The Blue Ribbon Policy

The Blue Ribbon Network replaces the London parts of RPG3b/9b (Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames). It includes the Thames, the canal network, the other tributaries, rivers and streams within London and London’s open water spaces such as docks, reservoirs and lakes. It includes culverted (or covered over) parts of rivers, canals or streams.

To make London a better city for people to live in, policies should protect and enhance the Blue Ribbon Network as part of the public realm contributing to London’s open space network.

Policy 4C.3 The natural value of the Blue Ribbon Network The Mayor will, and boroughs should, protect and enhance the biodiversity of the Blue Ribbon Network by:

  • resisting development that results in a net loss of biodiversity
  • designing new waterside developments in ways that increase habitat value
  • allowing development into the water space only where it serves a water-dependent purpose or is a truly exceptional case which adds to London’s world city status
  • taking opportunities to open culverts and naturalise river channels
  • protecting the value of the foreshore of the River Thames.

Policy 4C.8 Sustainable drainage
The Mayor will, and boroughs should, seek to ensure that surface water run-off is managed as close to its source as possible. The use of sustainable urban drainage systems should be promoted for development unless there are practical reasons for not doing so. Such reasons may include the local ground conditions or density of development. In such cases, the developer should seek to manage as much run-off as possible on site and explore sustainable methods of managing the remainder as close as possible to the site.

Blue Ribbon Plan (courtesy Greater London Authority)

The Blue Ribbon Plan, or London Rivers Open Space Plan, was the first significant statement on Open Space Planning in the Twenty First Century by the Greater London Authority. (image courtesy Wallyg)We should not however waste too much praise on it - until the statement is accompanied by action!

The Blue Ribbon Plan is one component of what should be a large-scale plan for London's Green Infrastructure. As Abercrombie proposed in 1943-4, the Green Infrastructure should extend from Central London into the Green Belt and the surrounding countryside. If, as must be expected, London continues to grow, then the rural Green Infrastructure will become Urban Green Infrastructure.