“The best jobs in the future are going to be what I call STEMpathy jobs,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman late last year. “Jobs that blend STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, math) with human empathy. We don’t know what many of them will look like yet.” Indeed. But we do know enough about human empathy to know that nothing of much value gets done in spare bedrooms by pyjama-clad loners – something the City of London holds to be true, for the next 20 years at least.
Corporation planners are devoting much of 2017 to figuring out how the Square Mile might look and feel in 2036. Consultation closed last December on the 75-page City Plan 2036: Shaping the Future City, which provides plenty of clues for architects, planning consultants and developers. Clues are embedded in questions and maps showing what they might want and where. A draft local plan will be published this autumn, with adoption chalked in for summer 2019. But this year is for exploring opportunities.
Where to start? Begin with the dull but reassuring 187-page London Labour Market Projections 2016, published by the Greater London Authority last June. Key sentence: “Demand for professional occupations, and managers [will account for] three quarters, or 979,000, of additional jobs between 2014 and 2041.” At 100ft² per worker, that works out at damn near 100,000,000ft² of space – about 220 Gherkins, London-wide. How many the City will attract is, of course, the corporation’s only concern.
Plan 2036 declines to enumerate how many of those jobs will land in the City – wisely perhaps, given its dull-dog image among the under-30s and EY’s worries expressed late last year about 83,000 banking jobs on the line as we Brexit. GLA economists predict 80,000 more jobs in the Square Mile by 2041, up 20% from today’s figure of 400,000. Nearly 20 Gherkins-full. The word ‘office’ has a quill-pen ring; ‘workspace’ has overtones of sweated labour. So let’s first see where the City might allow Friedman’s STEMpathy space.
The bad news is that half the space needed by 2036 has already been designed and granted permission, including 14 towers. “Schemes under construction and permitted but not commenced could accommodate the Local Plan’s projected increase in office jobs in the City up to 2026,” says Plan 36, without mentioning the diameter of the pipeline. But it’s not hard to root out City figures showing a 4,700,000ft² pipeline. Say 10 Gherkins, which sounds about right, given 20 are needed by 2036.
Do not despair. Work has begun on the biggest of the 14 towers, the 1,400,000ft² 22 Bishopsgate scheme. This 67-floor skyscraper will be towering over the City by 2020. It just needs two or three other big developments to begin and a few more to be abandoned and the pipeline will shrivel like a punctured inner tube. Then what? Actually “then where?” is the better question. The Eastern Cluster is where. Think of the gap between the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie and east out to Aldgate.
Anyone with an interest in the next generation of towers will have been exploring this area since last summer, when the City released a plan delineating an Eastern Cluster. A 3D model of the area has since been produced and published. “This work is at an early stage but has already confirmed the limits of change in the Cluster that include impacts on the wider setting for the Tower of London,” says Plan 36. “The Local Plan review will consider whether any changes should be made to the area of the Cluster.” My italics.
Read that quote carefully, and remember the answer lies in the question. Move on. “What should the City look and feel like in 2036?” is the key question. “The current Local Plan evolved from the 2011 City of London Core Strategy, which was based on evidence collected prior to 2011. The Local Plan now requires updating to address recent development trends and to reflect the City’s emerging priorities and aspirations.” To translate: “The old plan is out of date. We need a new post-Brexit plan.”
Here comes the key phrase: “One option would be to identify a ‘Commercial Core’ where only offices and complementary uses will be permitted, with a more flexible approach to other land uses including housing outside the Commercial Core, though this may impact on space suitable for SMEs.” Bets are hedged, so as not to annoy small businesses. But to baldly translate: “If things get bad, we may need to delineate a formal Central Business District – the sort of thing that most other cities on the planet operate.”
A CBD would include Broadgate, and maybe further north and east into areas where under-30s might feel comfortable. “There may be potential for further business intensification in this area, particularly linking with the Tech City area around Shoreditch and Old Street.” Groovy. Meaning more developments like the 320,000ft² Fruit and Wool Exchange, now being rebuilt by Exemplar. But what might fill the areas between a new CBD and the 2,000-year-old Roman boundaries of the Square Mile?
More homes? A few. “Should we indicate where further residential development would be permitted?” asks Plan 36. The GLA is pressing for the present 110-units-a-year ceiling to be raised to 141 a year. The City has 8,000 full-time residents and 1,400 second-home owners. There is no indication more would be welcome. Over 200 flats are being built near St Bartholomew’s Hospital, close to Smithfield Market, an ancient blood-soaked spot which gets wary attention in Plan 36.
“Smithfield has been the home of a meat market for hundreds of years […] we will need to reconcile the needs of the meat market with greater pedestrian pressure resulting from Crossrail and the emerging Cultural Hub.” For “emerging cultural hub,” read the by-no-means-certain relocation of the Museum of London to empty market buildings. Will meat-trading be replaced by a Leadenhall-in-the-West gallery of shops and cafés? Maybe. But any proposal risks the porters’ terrible wrath. Don’t bank on it happening before 2036.