London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has been in office for seven weeks now, and we are all eager to see what he will do.

Peter Courtney

In his manifesto, he stated that his priority was building sustainable communities with the right infrastructure to equip them for the future, which evokes everyone’s favourite boardroom buzz phrase: placemaking.

It is such an overused term that it has lost much of its meaning. Placemaking means more than putting an artisanal coffee shop here or some well-placed shrubbery there, and it is not something a developer can do on its own. Khan must encourage developers to think long term and recognise that although proper mixed-use schemes may take longer to deliver and don’t offer the quick bucks of straight residential schemes, they ultimately create more sustainable communities and thus more dependable returns.

Meanwhile, developers must recognise the importance of working with all stakeholders from the outset and adopt a holistic approach to delivering real places and integrated communities, not schemes, and cohesive retail and leisure offers are central to this.

Too often the retail provision comes as an afterthought, to fill vacant units or enliven a ground-floor streetscape. However, looking at the recent success stories, it is in those communities where the full picture has been considered that we see the most growth. At Canary Wharf, for example, the offices and retail came (in some cases) almost three decades before most of the residential. Yes, outside the Canary Wharf estate there were crash pads and boxy flats, but there were no actual homes in the estate itself.

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However, my company has been working with Canary Wharf Group since 1997 and there has been a marked shift in the way it is perceived. By attracting the right mix of brands and new food concepts, we have established a seven-day life for the estate. With Crossrail on its way and its population set to double, it is now emerging as a residential hot spot, with thousands more new homes, many for families, now being built.

Of course, Canary Wharf’s success is partly due to organic growth. But there are lessons learnt that can be applied elsewhere. It comes back to the old ‘live, work, play’ analogy, as people want homes where they can actually live, not just work. To deliver this, you need a neighbourhood, which shops and restaurants provide.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, though. The retail and leisure mix of any development should be considered holistically, looking at the target consumer, existing community and heritage of an area. You should work with other stakeholders to consider culture and civic needs such as schools. Only by adopting this approach can you create truly authentic communities.

On this basis, I am a believer in the retail and leisure offer being considered from the outset. It should feature as a central element of the initial design process and shape how public spaces are configured. Of course, having all the space fully pre-let well before any residential investment isn’t viable, as retail and leisure trends shift much quicker than residential. But it must be considered and where possible phased, and constantly evolve to help shift consumer perception over time, rather than just initiated as an afterthought. At the next phase of the Canary Wharf development, we have since revisited the masterplan to include more retail and leisure at street level, having recognised the increasing demand.

While I understand that the commercial drivers of mixed-use developments are the things that happen ‘upstairs’, we should all consider the bigger picture. This is more than just placemaking as a concept - it is about actually creating places and communities. I am now watching this space, as this will be Khan’s biggest challenge while in office.

Peter Courtney is head of London at Lunson Mitchenall

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