The Mayor's draft London Plan should give more recognition to the need for community space, affordable housing for people in the community and voluntary sectors, and a stronger voice for Londoners in developing plans.
These are among recommendations from London funders and the new Hub for London, based on discussion at last week's event with the Greater London Authority, which I reported here.
In a letter to Sadiq Khan, Mayor London, James Banks, Director of London Funders, and Sharon Long, Hub lead at Greater London Volunteering, say:
"We start, as we believe you have done in the development of the plan, with a celebration of London. We are proud of our city, of its diversity, its communities, its resilience and its potential. We are keen that the London Plan builds from this – celebrating our assets, making our communities stronger, and championing the diversity of our communities. We hope our feedback is helpful in identifying where we feel the plan could be enhanced to help make this vision a reality, and have points below under the following five broad themes:
- Recognising the importance of civil society to the fabric of our city;
- Moving beyond GDP as a way of recognising value in London; Embedding principles of coproduction into the design and planning process;
- Considering equalities and inclusion throughout the plan; and
- Looking at the integration of services to promote whole-person support.
James and Sharon say that "the important role of civil society, through voluntary and community sector organisations and groups, needs a stronger focus throughout the plan".
Among the key points they then make are:
"At a basic level, this can be seen in the absence of sections that consider the way in which space is needed by communities – moving beyond requirements for developers to include community space, or for local authorities to make under-utilised space available (despite the pressures they are under financially, making some proposals around asset transfer to the sector economically unviable), but to putting communities at the heart through ensuring that there are spaces that meet their needs, that are designed with community involvement from the outset, and that this approach is embedded in the planning process. This would prevent the situation emerging where community space is created which is not fit for purpose.
"In addition, the question of affordability of housing and services, from the perspective of people who work in the not-for-profit sector, is also an issue affective the vibrancy and sustainability of the voluntary and community sector groups that our communities depend upon. We recognise the commitment to increase affordable housing, though would push for a clearer definition of affordable that takes accounts of the needs of our civil society sector alongside those of aligned sectors".
They advocate great cooperation and collaboration the development of plans:
"We would also recommend embedding the principle of coproduction in the planning process directed by the plan. Giving Londoners and communities a stronger voice in the development and implementation of the plan, and in the frameworks and policies that will shape our city, will ensure that development meets the needs of all. Mechanisms that celebrate coproduction, for example through positively prioritising proposals for development that are built upon coproduced designs with the community, would aid a more inclusive city. There are established frameworks for putting Londoners at the heart of decisions that affect their lives and spaces, for example through the reports produced by The Way Ahead programme which draw on the expertise of people across civil society, public and business communities.
Summary of recommendations
Based on the comments above, some concrete recommendations would be:
- Include a section highlighting the contribution, needs and requirements of the voluntary and community sector as a specific sector of London’s economy;
- Ensure the role of civil society is recognised in all sections of the plan, not just as part of the “social infrastructure” of the city;
- Bring in teams at City Hall working on the civil society narrative, to ensure that strategies align and there is consistency in how the GLA plans to celebrate civil society;
- Clarify the meaning of “community space” and outline more clearly how communities and the voluntary and community sector need to be involved in designing this;
- Include social value as a measure of good growth, not just economic measures of success;
- Prioritise coproduction and community involvement through the planning process;
- Consider closely the equalities impact of the policies in the plan, and ensure that the needs of all communities (current, developing and emerging) are met by the plan; and
- Promote the integration of services from across sectors in meeting the needs of Londoners, moving beyond current policy priorities focused on the public sector delivery partners.
"We recognise throughout that this is a long-term plan with a strong vision for London, but that the context in which we all operate is shifting constantly. We hope that embedding approaches such as coproduction and a greater recognition of civil society from the outset will create more opportunities for innovation, positive change and responsive flexibility in the implementation of the plan over the coming years, and that this will lead to a London we will continue to be proud of."