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Curated Clusters – why encouraging London’s creative industries is now more important than ever

Richard Ainsley | 03 Mar 2017 | Comments

When we published Future Proofing London in late 2015 we identified that London’s creative industries would play an increasingly important role in the future of London’s economy up to 2050, as the financial services sector declined in importance. Fast forward 14 months and with a Brexit shortly to be triggered, we could be in for a more rapid decline in financial services than we had previously forecast. This means that the need to nurture London’s diverse creative economy will be crucial to London’s future growth.

Much of the talk about London’s future rightly focuses on housing, or in particular the failure to build enough of it to meet London’s needs. This is the most pressing challenge that London faces, and one which frames all other arguments about the future growth of London. There is a temptation to see redevelopment of industrial and commercial land for housing as the answer, but in the rush to develop new homes what we must not forget is that a city will only remain successful where it enables commerce to thrive. The threat to London’s industrial and commercial land is increasing, and in Future Proofing London we recognised this and developed curated clusters as our response to this threat.

Curated clusters are a mixed use urban environment that is ‘curated’ to select the best of what is currently there (be it jobs, character or townscape etc.) whilst being active in attracting new uses and employment growth sectors. We see curated clusters as being intensely used areas, with high quality and vibrant urban environments that are flexible and adaptable to how people will live and work in future. Often areas are conceived and built without considering the long term stewardship of the area, its economy and community. The crucial difference with curated clusters is that they are continually curated to ensure that they remain places that meet London’s evolving challenges. Harnessing digital technology to continually monitor how clusters are performing will help them to adapt quickly as conditions change.

The principles of curated clusters can be applied in a number of ways in London to achieve the objective of a mixed use sustainable area that nurtures creative industries whilst retaining small and medium sized local employers. There are some good examples of where developers are trying to develop schemes that cater for creative industries but these are often on a small scale. London needs to be bolder in order to ensure that new developments, particularly large scale master planned areas, don’t sweep away our existing creative industries. We need to ensure they create thriving places rather than mono-functional dormitories.

To achieve this, a strong land use strategy that protects existing employment uses and incorporates these into a masterplan will be key. The right conditions to support SMEs in key growth sectors (creative industries, niche manufacturing, digital, etc.) will be required at the planning stage. There’s also a need to introduce policies to encourage: new typologies of workspace; new ways of working (for example open workspaces, co-work spaces); affordable space; flexible terms and leases; and ‘meanwhile’ and temporary uses. There’s also a need for a more hands on approach to managing the development once it’s built out, so that a diverse mix of commercial tenants are encouraged with the intent of supporting the creative economy. 

With the review of the London Plan in full swing, now is the time to think creatively about how London manages its future growth for the next 20 years, getting the mix between providing housing and supporting the economy right. Incorporating the principles of curated clusters into this approach could be one of the solutions, and one that we discuss further in our response to Sadiq Khan’s ‘A City For All Londoners’.