Move over developers and let the people inspire the planning

For some, making Victoria beautiful might be a stretch of the imagination. But with a public-led approach to planning, this undervalued entry point to London could be the perfect place to start, writes Mary Dejevsky

Sunday 12 July 2020 22:23
Victoria Station is the second busiest railway terminus in London and the UK
Victoria Station is the second busiest railway terminus in London and the UK

Build, build, build,” said Boris Johnson, selling a boost to the construction sector and the prospect of new homes, schools and hospitals as a way of getting the economy moving after the pandemic. To make this happen, the government is also proposing the relaxation of many planning rules, allowing extra storeys on existing buildings, permit-free conversions from shops to housing and generally denser development. Such a planning free-for-all, however, could incur serious public opposition and the loss of one of the more hopeful planning policy shifts for years – a shift that I came across almost by chance just a few weeks before coronavirus swept in.

Just after new year, I was browsing the pages of a local free sheet and chanced upon an advert for a public planning consultation. It wbas not, you might think, the most enticing invitation – a chance for interested local residents to spend a couple of evening hours in what sounded like a dusty church hall to listen and pore over maps and diagrams along with planners and architects. But there was something about the proposition that seemed worth pursuing.

First, it was billed as a “workshop” – in other words, a measure of participation was expected. Second, the plans hardly existed as such; everything was at an embryonic stage. And third, the evening was not about a particular building or development, but about a whole area: an area that many people familiar with central London, and many visitors who are not, will know as the almighty mess that surrounds the sprawling labyrinth of Victoria Station. The project is called Future Victoria.

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