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Interview: Emma Peters, Inner Circle Consulting

Tue 28th August 2018, 2:28 pm

Sitematch London talks to Emma Peters, director at Inner Circle Consulting. Before her current role, Peters worked as a director for Regenfirst, and as a regeneration consultant for a number of local authorities including London Boroughs of Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham, and Haringey.

What does your role and responsibilities at Inner Circle entail?

I started at Inner Circle Consulting as a director in May 2018, joining Jamie Ounan, Chris Twigg and Andy Starkie.  As a director I work with all three on every aspect of company management and business development, as well as leading specific projects on behalf of various clients.

Part of my role is to set-up Inner Circle’s first graduate trainee programme: we have a first cohort of three graduates starting with us this autumn.  I also want to further develop Inner Circle’s profile in housing growth and development, and I’m keen to work with local authority clients in particular to help speed up the rate and quality of housing delivery.

When creating public/private partnership, what should local authorities bring to the table?

I think local authorities have significantly “upped their game” in recent years in terms of working with the private sector.  Most are keen to see private sector investment and leadership teams (political and officer level) are generally willing to engage in discussions with business leaders and property developers to secure appropriate investment.

At the most basic level, the private sector needs local authorities to keep their planning policy frameworks up-to-date, with policies that are clear, reasonable and proportionate. 

The new National Planning Policy Framework is placing even more of an emphasis on this and are seeking to incentivise local authorities, not least through penalties such as reducing the ability of local authorities to resist development they think inappropriate, if they are not meeting housing delivery targets. 

This will undoubtedly concentrate minds in planning departments, but it doesn’t overcome the very real problems that chief planners face in resourcing the plan making process, nor will it help in areas where development viability is marginal, due to high infrastructure costs. 

Most developers know this, and most would rather work with local authorities to overcome problems rather than exploit the tensions in the system.

And what should the private sector do?

The private sector can help by understanding the pressures local authority planning services are under and fostering a partnership rather than an adversarial approach. 

An open approach to negotiations is already the exception rather than the rule; it always helps when developers are willing to listen to advice on such things as the timing planning applications. Chief planning officers know the quirks of their committees.

What do you believe are the key regeneration projects are happening in London right now?

There are many schemes happening in London now that are exciting.  I still think the Olympic Park is hugely exciting – it is a fantastic example of good forward planning together with flexibility and adapt to changing circumstances.

The quality of design has remained consistently high and the neighbourhoods which are emerging from the development platforms have their own distinctive characters. This reflects the care being taken to integrate them with adjoining localities and ensure accessibility for all.

It is great to see just how busy the whole area is, even though it is nowhere near complete.  This is down to the fact that from the outset, unlike other recent Olympic Games locations, there was not only a great vision for the 2012 Games but also a commitment to the legacy, and a large number of very dedicated people in the public and private sectors prioritised that legacy.  It is an excellent example of the positive power of good planning.

What schemes you were involved in are you particularly proud of?

It is hard to pinpoint a particular scheme, because I’ve been active in regeneration in London (mainly in local government) for such a long time. But I think it is worth revisiting the fact that in the early years of the 21st century there were some very good estate regeneration schemes and I think we have lost our way on estate regeneration recently. 

I was involved in some big housing estate regeneration projects in Lewisham (Pepys, Sundermead, Kender) and in Tower Hamlets (Ocean) where, working with housing associations, we managed to get more genuinely affordable homes, and local residents (particularly leaseholders) were not forced out of areas they had lived in all their lives. 

Mostly this is down to how schemes are financed, and it’s fair to say that the really tough estates have always been in the “a bit too difficult” box, but the scale and ambition on those early schemes was more – it was more organic, and more about improving neighbourhoods, not sweeping them away.

 

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