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Heritage should be at the heart of London's future

  • New report says heritage should be at the core of planning and recognised as vital for future growth
  • Pan-London strategy is needed for the city’s future to avoid damage like that caused by new 42 storey tower which spoils a protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Report will form part of Historic England’s response to the new London Plan

Image of London from Primrose Hill
London from Primrose Hill © Chris Redgrave/Historic England

Heritage must be recognised in the forthcoming London Plan as a vital part of the capital’s ability to grow, and there needs to be a strategic, city-wide vision for enhancing rather than damaging London’s heritage in the future, according to a report published by Historic England today.

The report is part of Historic England’s “Keep it London” campaign, which aims to get the public and London’s decision-makers to notice, celebrate and speak up for the capital’s heritage. Historic England aims to ensure London’s special character is respected in the face of fundamental change to the city.

Image of St Pauls' Cathedral from King Henry's Mound in Richmond Park. A development in Stratford can now be seen behind the Cathedral's dome
St Pauls' Cathedral from King Henry's Mound in Richmond Park. A development in Stratford can now be seen behind the Cathedral's dome © Chris Redgrave/Historic England

The recent construction of a new 42 storey tower in Stratford, which spoils the protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Richmond Park, demonstrates how the lack of a strategic plan for London means the profound impact of some developments is only being discovered too late.

Yet London’s iconic historic places and views, as well as its characterful neighbourhoods, are an important part of the city’s attraction, at home and overseas.

This report is the result of a roundtable discussion by a panel of experts representing planning, heritage and property development and it will form part of Historic England’s response to the Greater London Authority’s London Plan, due for publication in Spring 2018.

Image of the Tower of London seen against the backdrop of the City
The Tower of London seen against the backdrop of the City

The expert panel made five key recommendations to ensure the crucial thread of heritage is woven into the next London Plan:

1. Find out what matters to people who live and work in London: We all must work harder to find out what Londoners -those who live and work in the city- care about. A recent poll of Londoners showed that 48% think the 430 tall buildings planned for the capital will have a negative impact on the skyline, compared to the 34% who think they will have a positive impact, but more than half of Londoners don’t know how to have a say over new buildings. Londoners should be asked to contribute towards the plans that affect the unique character of their local place and help decide how their area changes.

2. The London Plan should encourage future planning and design to be inspired by a place’s historic character: London’s distinctiveness is worth protecting. We must understand the character of different areas before planning for change. We believe London Boroughs should use a character-based approach in their strategic policies to achieve good growth. Early and continuous understanding of local character means that as places change they can also hold on to what makes them special.

3. The London Plan should put heritage at the heart of planning, not as an add-on at the end of the process: Our historic environment is fundamental to creating a sense of place and can be part of a dynamic growth strategy, so it should be integral to the planning process and delivering regeneration. The London Plan should also focus on pan-London challenges, using both old and new tools, such as a 3D model of the city to achieve a truly city-wide vision.

4. The Greater London Authority, Historic England and partners should develop a London Heritage Strategy: We believe the time is right for a dedicated strategy for managing the future of London’s heritage. The strategy should increase awareness of heritage’s importance to the capital’s economy and steer the best ways to use and conserve our historic environment. It should identify appropriate locations for tall buildings and ensure the delivery of growth in strategic locations.

5. Historic England should continue to act as strategic champion for heritage and the contribution it makes to London’s future: Heritage is not a technical, specialist issue. It is central to London’s international reputation but is also inextricably linked to quality of life and shared identity. Strong voices are needed to convince people that heritage is an essential engine for growth and Historic England should frame the debate around London’s future, involving Londoners themselves to make sure planning focusses on the “soul” of an area and connects with the people who live there.

Image of St Paul's Cathedral and The Monument surrounded by cranes
St Paul's Cathedral and The Monument surrounded by cranes © Chris Redgrave/Historic England

Emily Gee, London Planning Director for Historic England said: “Heritage is a fundamental part of what makes London the vibrant, successful, joyful, hard-working place it is. And in a time of great change – and some uncertainty – a solid foundation and sense of history can make us strong.

“If London loses its special historic character, its distinctive brand goes with it and every community will be worse off. We call for policies in the new London Plan to encourage all those involved in the city’s future to act with the proper knowledge of its historic character and what Londoners want.”

Historic England would like Londoners to get involved in the debate about their city’s future. We have a responsibility to get it right for London and its people.

Have your say by emailing IAmLondon@HistoricEngland.org.uk or tweeting us at @HistoricEngland

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  • St Paul's cathedral at night, viewed across the London Millenium Footbridge.

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