Letter to the Mayor of London

Application for a place on Mayor’s Design Advocate panel

Dear Mayor

Your Good Growth agenda sets out ambitious targets for the delivery of new homes and workplaces that the capital desperately needs. The volume of homes required to meet the challenges of the coming years are almost as numerous as the solutions which have been proposed to deliver them. There is, however, a risk that in the rush to deliver, unnecessary compromises could be made unless you act to ensure that the places we build are of a quality of which we can be proud.

It seems likely that many new homes will be commissioned by London Boroughs themselves. If so, then it is of vital importance that these set the standard for quality, longevity and affordability. There must be no excuse for poor-quality design, homogeneity or compromised build quality.

High quality placemaking, context-driven design and meaningful engagement with local communities can only be achieved if boroughs choose the right team for the job. Too often top-down delivery, the mitigation of risk, prioritisation of established solutions over innovation, and the stifling of creativity has resulted in homes and neighbourhoods which are not up to scratch.

Transparent procurement provides an opportunity to galvanise communities behind the Mayor’s vision for good growth. Just as community-led design breaks down resistance to development, involving local people in the commissioning of design teams helps engender support for innovative new approaches to the delivery of the homes we need.

London’s design community remains an untapped resource. Involving it more meaningfully in the delivery of homes is vital to the continuation of our city’s world-class status. The capital has benefited from successive Mayors’ promotion of good design and, by and large, responsible and accessible procurement, leading to some Boroughs adopting similarly responsible and thoughtful approaches to commissioning and the quality of new public buildings in many of these locations has seen a dramatic improvement as a result.

To broaden the toolkit of solutions to meet your growth objectives and embed design quality across the city, the GLA should provide more guidance to the Boroughs in how to best commission buildings that serve existing and new communities.

The introduction of well-run design competitions for appropriate projects — a process which seems bewilderingly absent in London yet which is used elsewhere in the world to great effect — would expose innovative ideas and creative solutions to many of the problems facing our city. Promoting diverse frameworks that are able to match specialists with appropriately-size projects ensures quality is embedded within the design process from the outset. Publication of best practice guidance, ingrained within the London Plan, and regular workshops promoting these principles to borough officers would have a profound effect on elevating design quality and limiting resistance to growth.

A further initiative, monitoring frameworks, project procurements and outcomes would provide vital data on how London’s public bodies are performing in delivering new homes and neighbourhoods and introduce much-needed transparency and accountability, restoring confidence amongst London’s communities in the public sector’s ability to build a London that is welcoming and accommodating for everyone.

Yours Faithfully

Russell Curtis