Richard Ainsley

UK & Europe

Richard is an associate director for Atkins, and a Chartered Town Planner. He specialises in strategic planning, both in the UK where has completed various evidence based projects, informing the preparation of local plans and internationally assisting city governments with their long term development strategies.

Richard has project managed assessments of the development potential generated through transport infrastructure investment such as Crossrail 2 and upgrades to tube lines, a public spaces masterplan in Colombia and an infrastructure investment framework for a strategic infrastructure corridor in Kenya. Richard is the lead author for the recently published Atkins Future Proofing London report.

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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’.

UK & Europe,

It’s easy to see what draws people to London. Its history, its culture, its learning institutions, and its tranquil green spaces. Plus of course its excellent employment opportunities. London’s success is undoubtedly driving the huge forecast growth in population and jobs. It is understanding these demographics and job forecasts – that informs robust planning. Not taking steps to ensure that housing, commercial space and infrastructure can support a city’s growth means a number of problems are likely to contribute to its decline.

Over the next few decades, London’s broad economy will start to lose the very diversity that has sustained it thus far. It will become unbalanced. London’s economy is creating higher-skilled jobs, across limited sectors such as banking and finance, and only in the centre. Very few equivalent jobs are found in outer London. So, as this inequality grows between the very rich in the centre, pushing less well-off people to the less salubrious suburbs, first there will be a danger of increased social tension.

London’s environment will become more degraded as the city centre’s reliance on energy sources and waste management beyond its boundaries increases. London will lose its competitive advantage. Its quality of life, that attracts so many, will deteriorate. In short, if we want a future-proofed London, it needs our help.

I believe the first priority for London needs to be making prudent, long-term investment. We need to prioritise investment in infrastructure, taking into account not just the economic benefits, but also the social and environmental benefits, is where the smart money needs to go. Big data analytics can support good decision-making here. I think we should make more use of existing infrastructure, and not always take the default position of thinking new is better; creating schemes that won’t necessarily deliver the best social and environmental benefits.

An important shift is needed to revitalise London’s outlying areas. Outer London could be working much harder than it does at present to accommodate more housing. It can accommodate new jobs. This could be the antidote to the anticipated rise of social inequalities, while boosting quality of life for people living outside the centre of the city.

I’m excited about the opportunities specially created ‘curated clusters’ can offer the city. These are adaptable and flexible areas of economic growth that are well equipped to attract and nurture investment, while creating strong communities that have the foundations to last.

London is valued for its green, open spaces. As it grows this space will become ever-more precious. But London’s future resilience will require more green spaces, so the key here is in making limited green belt land available to help London breathe in the future. A limited amount could be used to address the housing problem, but just as importantly, London could make better use of existing green belt for parkland and leisure activities.

The future of London is in the hands of many stakeholders. From national to local government, the public and private sector, developers and infrastructure providers, and communities and individuals. All of us want to see London succeed and remain the much-loved city it has grown to become over the centuries. But if we really want to see London future-proofed by 2050, it’s time for us to start thinking big.

For more on this discussion, have a read of our report, Future Proofing London – Our world city: risks and opportunities for London’s competitive advantage to 2050 produced in partnership with Centre for London and Oxford Economics.

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