What could Jules Pipe have in store for planning in London?

Hackney mayor Jules Pipe has been appointed as London mayor Sadiq Khan's deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills. Mark Wilding looks at his track record, and asks what this could mean for planning in the capital.

Jules Pipe
Jules Pipe

Jules Pipe is no fan of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard project. In February last year, the then mayor of Hackney launched a campaign aimed at blocking plans from developers Hammerson and Ballymore for a development of six towers up to 48 storeys high on a site straddling the borough’s border with Tower Hamlets. Citing a lack of affordable housing and concerns about design and massing, Pipe said: "These luxury flats, which are well beyond the reach of ordinary Londoners, will cast a shadow over the whole of Tech City, and threaten to damage the local creative economy."

Unfortunately for Pipe, or so it seemed at the time, the decision was taken out of Hackney’s hands last September when the scheme was called in for determination by then London mayor Boris Johnson. However, in April this year, the Greater London Authority (GLA) planning officers unexpectedly agreed with Pipe that the application should be refused. Shortly afterwards, Johnson deferred his decision. On 23 June, with Sadiq Khan recently installed in City Hall, Pipe saw an opportunity. He issued a statement: "The developers should be sent back to work with the boroughs to devise a new scheme that will enhance the area, rather than blight it."

Just a week later, City Hall announced that Pipe had been appointed London’s deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills, a role he took up earlier this month. In a statement, the GLA said Pipe would focus on major regeneration projects across the capital, and would ensure that the capital’s infrastructure needs are delivered "to benefit all Londoners" and lead on the revision of the London Plan. Pipe will work closely with James Murray, deputy mayor for housing and residential development, the GLA said, to tackle the city’s "housing crisis", though Murray will lead on housing-related planning policies. Pipe said his vision for the capital included a "much-needed" increase in housing, development that is planned to provide the "widest benefit", and boosting the skills of young Londoners. He added: "I will be keen to ensure that the London Plan in particular reflects these core priorities."

Pipe will have plenty of opportunities to get involved with more controversial schemes in his new role. But former colleagues say that his stance on Bishopsgate Goodsyard represented a rare intervention in planning. Those who have worked with him describe him as a pragmatist, a leader, and a firm believer in the power of local government to change things for the better.

John Allen was assistant director of planning at Hackney for three years until November 2015. "Jules was quite careful not to get involved in issuing statements about applications," he says. According to Allen, Pipe’s interest was in strategic matters such as economic development, rather than detailed planning matters. "He regarded that as a job he paid people to do," he says.

Pipe was much more closely involved in regeneration. "I saw him virtually every day," says Andrew Sissons, who served as head of regeneration delivery in Hackney from 2010 to 2015. Sissons expects Pipe to "push for good levels of social and affordable housing" and focus on the difficulties facing young people wanting to live in the capital. He describes Pipe as "very pro-business and focused on trying to create jobs for local people. He saw the opportunities that were coming into the area in terms of new office buildings and businesses like [Hackney’s] Fashion Hub and Tech City as ideal."

The desire to create jobs was at the heart of one of Pipe’s longest-running battles as Hackney mayor. In the lead-up to the London Olympics, he successfully fought for the press and broadcasting centres to be permanent structures, built in Hackney, to provide a legacy after the Games. When the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) opted for this in 2012, Pipe described his victory as the end of a "seven-year slog". Today, the buildings are known as Here East and house the BT Sport TV studios, Hackney Community College and a Loughborough University campus.

Gavin Poole, chief executive at iCity, the firm which developed the buildings for LLDC, says: "Jules was instrumental in making sure these buildings were in the north west corner of the park in Hackney. He saw the potential of securing the press centre for his borough." Poole says that Pipe has maintained an active interest in the project and still regularly meets with him to get updates on jobs and lettings in the development.

Those in the development industry say that Pipe’s biggest contribution has been to add certainty to Hackney’s planning process. Andrew Waugh, a director at architecture firm Waugh Thistleton, which has worked on more than 25 projects in the borough, says: "The change since Jules was appointed has been phenomenal. Fifteen years ago, we wouldn’t work in Hackney. It was seen as disorganised: the planning outcomes were uncertain; there were fluctuations in planning and management. He turned that around."

Vincent Stops, chair of Hackney’s planning sub-committee, explains the council’s approach to planning negotiations. "We’ve aimed to work very positively with developers, but we’ve been very tough in our demands, such as good design and high density," he says. "Clearly that is the great success of Hackney. We’ve held out for good quality but still been able to work with developers. We let them know what we want and we’re consistent in our decision-making." Looking ahead to Pipe’s new role, Stops adds: "I’d like to see more of London looking like Hackney in terms of density, public realm, and access to transport. I think you’ll see public realm put high on the agenda."

When it comes to planning, Pipe has not been afraid to take on central government. After ministers introduced permitted development rights easing office-to-residential conversions in 2013, Pipe expressed concerns about the impact on Hackney’s employment space and, in particular, the risk posed to Tech City. Pipe successfully fought for an exemption in parts of Hackney and, as chair of London Councils, helped to secure exemptions for large areas elsewhere in the capital.

His time at London Councils is testament to his ability to work with colleagues who may hold different political beliefs, says Teresa O’Neill, vice-chair of the organisation and Conservative leader for the London Borough of Bexley. "I don’t think politics has ever come into our discussions," she says. She also points to Pipe’s belief in the importance of local decision-making and the way this may shape his approach as deputy mayor: "As far as planning is concerned, he has generally taken the view that decisions are down to the boroughs."

Before becoming deputy mayor, Pipe reflected on his years at Hackney. "It represents the very best of London," he said. "I hope that from City Hall I can continue to make a difference there." That opportunity may come sooner rather than later. One of his first decisions looks likely to be the future of Bishopsgate Goodsyard. So while Pipe has moved on from Hackney, he’ll still get to deal with some unfinished business.

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