The Queen of the Suburbs responds to COVID-19

Over recent months, neighbourhoods in the suburbs have become even more important places in our society, as communities have shown resilience and support in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. As local authorities move into recovery, Ealing Council and some of its development partners got together for an online event to examine how we can create better places in our suburbs and deliver more affordable homes.
Councillor Peter Mason, Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning and Transformation, at the London Borough of Ealing, opened up by talking about the support Ealing, also known as the Queen of the Suburbs, has given to businesses and residents – Ealing has been among the best local authorities in the UK at delivering business support. It has also made amendments to consultations and changes to the planning system to ensure decisions are still properly, but efficiently made.
The panel went on to discuss the programme for delivering new homes – still a key goal, and where the council’s pledge to build 2500 genuinely affordable homes by 2022 still holds.
Both Richard Smith, Managing Director of New Homes, Catalyst Housing Association, and Jamie Hunter, Director, Hill, said that while sites had closed at the outset ofg the UK coronavirus lockdown, site were now all back open. Contractors had themselves elected to close the sites for safety reasons, but now, with the aid of Construction Leadership Council guidelines, were starting work again.
The planning flow was still moving too, with progress being made on a number of sites, including a small sites programme of around 400 homes on 30 sites being delivered by Hill in collaboration with the council. On sales, there is less certainty. Hunter said that the market is varied, and it is too early to say what will happen. “But we are open for business, and positive”, he said.
Lucy Taylor, Director of Growth and Sustainability, at London Borough of Ealing, talked about how the council has adapted to the new situation, keeping 50 planners working despite not being in the office. Taylor is leading on economic recovery for the borough, and talked about some work they have commissioned on the economic impact. “The first findings show the biggest impact on transport, hospitality, and manufacturing, all of which are very important for Ealing and indeed West London. Also, it seems the size of a business affects its resilience – West London has more microbusinesses than the rest of the capital, and these are generally less resilient. We are making sure we make support available to them.”
It seems that now there might be an opportunity for places like Ealing to develop more commercial office workspace. Some employers are looking to give their employees workplace options nearer to where they live, or to which they can travel by foot or cycle.
Taylor continued: “This also makes mixed use more important. We really need to think about the most appropriate balance of uses in new developments.”

Richard Smith echoed this, saying: “Ground floor use of mixed use is now less likely to be retail. We need to think about how that will change. And green spaces are much more important.” To have somewhere close to where you live that is open, green, and pleasant¬† would seem a very important thing now.

Jamie Hunter thought the mix would be crucial, but also thought that planning flexibility was essential. “From a planning point of view, flexibility is the key. The uses are likely to be diverse, not easy to predict, and unlikely to drive the last penny on the land value. We need to be able to deliver developments that work for the people who live in them.”
See the panel on the Real Estate Live Youtube channel here.
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