On June 22, one-and-a-half million Londoners watched a unique evening of television when Thames devoted four hours to exploring Londons present state and future prospects. This was the culmination of two months of special programmes, and prefaced a two-day conference, all part of Thames’ London Looks Forward project.
The project also included a unique research study of Londoners’ attitudes, a new book on London planning, and a series of specially-commissioned background papers.
The eight documentaries that preceded 22 June ‘evening of London’ revolved around the homes and lives of four London families, all from different areas and social groups. Made by the Today team and broadcast on consecutive Fridays from April, the films surveyed London through the families’ eyes taking planning issues to the people, and at the same time evoking the peoples’ experience for the planners. Many distinguished planners and decision-makers came to Thames’ studios on June 22, first to watch a special 90-minute documentary on London’s present and future, and then to join in live televised debate and answer the criticisms voiced in the programme. The four families were among the studio audience who heard, and questioned, the varying philosophies proposed.
The London Looks Forward unit is currently investigating two major problems which affect London’s present and future – those of derelict land, and the lack of playspace for children.
Howard Thomas, in his welcoming message to all attending the Conference, described the project as aiming to ‘help Londoners learn about and contribute to the future planning of their great city’, and expressed Thames’ gratitude to the many people and organisations whose enthusiastic and inspired help’ had been essential to the success of the project. HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh opened the London Looks Forward Conference on Monday 4 July, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Prince Philip, who had played a formative part in pre-conference discussions, set the tone for the Conference by exhorting participants to concentrate on specific means of action, rather than general aims, and to reconcile conflicts in search of a common sense of purpose.
Conference Chairman Max Nicholson then launched the first of six working sessions which covered the project’s primary themes. The speakers, all actively involved in shaping London’s development, ranged across the planning spectrum, from trades unionists to academics, from Secretary of State for the Environment Peter Shore to Terry Harris of the Albany Community Arts Centre and Peter Large, Chairman of the Jubilee Committee on mobility for the disabled.
For two intensive days, 200 invited members joined the Conference speakers in lively uninhibited discussion. A massive number of facts and ideas were generated, as points of contention and agreement were discovered between parties and people who were often meeting for the first time.
During the Conference, the Today programme was broadcast live from the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and transmitted impromptu interviews with Conference participants. LBC also gave full coverage to the event; its ‘AM’ programme gave up-to-the-minute reports on Conference proceedings and interviews with speakers. In a special half-hour programme on the evening of July 6, Prince Philip and other leading contributors to the project discussed their views of the Conference and their ideas for future action.
London Looks Forwards initial achievement has been to bring together a wide range of views, experience and interests to seek out fresh ideas and areas of agreement; that is also the future aim of the London Looks Forward unit, now in operation under the Conference Director John Hambley.
In particular the project will focus on what Londoners want of their city, and what they can do to improve it both by their own actions and by entering the continuing debate on the capital’s future.
On the research side, the London Looks Forward unit is now investigating dereliction and playspace, two issues at the heart of Londoners’ discontent with their environment. And with reason, for in inner London alone there is estimated to be some 2,000 acres of wasteland; the capital as a whole contains over 20 million square feet of disused industrial buildings. How has this appalling situation arisen, why does it persist and what should the government and the people of London be doing about it? These are some of the questions which the research is aiming to find out.
Even with all that vacant space, there are still not enough places for the kids to play. London Looks Forward’s work on playspace will start by running a survey to find out what sort of play facilities people in London actually want and can afford; it will be asking why official targets for provision of open space set in the early 1950s are still far from being reached by many London boroughs, and how local authorities, both of their own volition and together with local residents, can improve the situation.
In addition, the unit has put forward ideas for making short programmes or programme-slots on schemes initiated by Londoners for London. The aim would be to interest viewers in what is being done at a grass roots’ level, by people like them.