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‘Coming out the kitchen’ Women in Planning London and Build by Both event

The event was opened by Jamie Ratcliff (Assistant Director, Land and Housing, GLA) who made an appeal for diversity - diversity in where and what we are building, and who is building our homes. 

Claire Bennie (Director, Municipal and Mayor’s Design Advocate) than gave an inspirational and educational talk on the “Women’s role in delivering housing in London”. Women ‘coming out of the kitchen’ have in the past and will continue in future to challenge the status-quo in planning and housing delivery to deliver innovative transformations in the UK. She talked about 5 influential women and reformers of London’s planning.

Octavia Hill (1838-1912), a social reformer who ‘invented’ the Housing Management and what is now the Charted Institute of Housing. She was concerned about health and welfare and a promoter of refurbishment over demolition. In a London, before local authorities we established, she was opposed to municipal provision of housing. 

Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936) pioneered the settlement model by establishing Toynbee Hall, where students were leaving amongst elder people or people who are vulnerable in a mutually beneficial model. She also put adult educational spaces in projects she developed.  One of the most important projects she developed is Hampstead Garden Suburb, for households with low income, but become soon gentrified because of the good quality design and control.

Elizabeth Denby (1984-1965) was an activist, believing in resident consultation and engagement, against the suburban development during its boom but a promoter of mixed-use high-density developments.

Dame Evelyn Sharp (1903-1985) was the first woman as Permanent Secretary, at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in a post-war time. She was a supporter of new towns and high-rise buildings.

Alice Coleman (1923) a geographer in the period when the Government’s focus shifted from new towns and high rise into cities revitalisation. She did a land use survey visiting lots of post-war social housing development and presented her controversial findings in her book ‘Utopia on Trial’.  She was a promoter of the importance of defensible space.

After inspiring the public to learn more about these influential women, Claire concluded that London's key solution now is public land delivery and multiplicity of developers, using the public and private sector to achieve housing delivery in a way that the natural resources are preserved as critical to achieving housing delivery.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion with: Liz Connell (Associate Director - Planning, Countryside), Michela Hancock (Senior Development Director, Greystar), Pooja Agrawal (Principal Project Officer, GLA and Co-Founder, Public Practice) and Sara Carry (Executive director of regeneration and environmental services at London Borough of Enfield). The event was chaired by our Women in Planning committee member Sara Sweeney, Planning Manager, Kitewood.

The esteemed panellist were discussing the main reasons of the capital’s housing crisis and the effectiveness of the recent housing strategies. They all responded the questions relaying on their varied professional experience, adding a sentimental personal opinion when talking about the lessons learned in successfully delivering or planning for new housing for London.

The panellists agreed about the importance of trust in securing community support for new housing development, with extensive communication and participation, as well as the so needed trust in the public sector which skills and capacity are improving by the Public Practice work.  They talked about the Local Authorities trend of thinking long term with quick wins in developing their land rather than selling to developers, including big regeneration areas such as Meridian Water. Argued about what does affordable housing means, what differentiates it from council housing and how right to buy build is not working in favour of the residents.  On the question of building tall to achieve greater density, the panel agreed there is a value of adding height were appropriate and the need to understand how density feels, not only to be valued by the numbers. More habitable rooms, and more doors on street can increase the quality of residential developments.  

The need of a plan for London’s South East Region was highlighted once more, as a result of strict and much more conservative planning treatment in London outskirts in relates to green belt, density etc.  The panellists also expressed their split opinions about the importance of the strict housing standards and regulations, with the argument that not all property buyers have same needs and requirements.

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