London is set to become a series of “mini towns”, where everything you need — from shops and schools to restaurants, recreation and entertainment — will be no more than 15 minutes away from your front door.

A new report launched today presents a snapshot of a post-pandemic capital in which we stay closer to home. The study by New London Architecture (NLA) sets out a vision for the city and how it must shift to survive the coronavirus crisis and be adequately equipped for the future.

“No event has affected public life like Covid-19 with its sudden shutdown of social and economic activity,” says Peter Murray, chairman of NLA. “However, it also offers a chance to recreate London in a way that is sustainable and socially inclusive,” he adds.

The body of architects is calling on government to ensure that London’s villages, both the new and the old, are healthy and active, fairer and affordable, and zero carbon.

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Proposal: the Centre for Music, part of the proposed Culture Mile at the northern fringe of the City, a traditional banking district that has seen huge change in 20 years (Cou​rtesy of Diller Scofidio​ + Renfro)

Flexible buildings are the future, the study also finds. It paints a picture of drones delivering parcels to the top of offices, and high street units that switch easily from shop to workspace to pop-up food kiosk in order to keep pace with consumer whims.

The report analyses the last 15 years of change, too, which has been dominated by showpiece architecture, such as Battersea Power Station and Chelsea Barracks, designed to beautify inner London. The next 15 years, however, will be about the regeneration of town centres to serve the community.

The rise of the 15-minute village

What Murray describes as “astonishing” change since 2005 was driven by record population growth and investment.

London grew from 7.5 million people in 2005 to 9.3 million this year, dwarfing the increase in New York, Paris or Sydney.

This attracted funding which powered the development of business districts such as Canary Wharf. Over that period 6.3 million square metres of office space was created in London. Yet fewer homes were built here than in those rival cities

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Mini town: Brent Cross in north London, a 50-acre tract of industrial land could be redeveloped as new offices, homes, parks, schools and Thameslink station (© Argent)

In the next 15 years the emphasis is predicted to shift from commercial to neighbourhood development. In the post-pandemic era, with families under financial pressure, there will be an even greater need for affordable homes. “Covid has highlighted people’s appreciation of their neighbourhood. A new localism is changing London,” says Deirdra Armsby of Westminster council.

The report predicts a faster uptake of the new “15-minute village” concept by councils and developers, where all amenities are within a short stroll or cycle from the front door. From dropping toddlers at the crèche, to exercising, shopping and working, daily needs will be met on the local high street.

“London has always been a city of villages, and those centres which can accommodate a mix of housing, workplaces and leisure will be the most resilient in a post-Covid London,” says Catherine Staniland, author of the report.

The need to be cleaner, greener and leaner

The Government has committed to bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The construction industry needs urgently to clean up its act but lifestyles must change, too, as highlighted by the pandemic.

The reduction in road traffic during lockdown drastically cut air pollution and carbon levels, and pavements and cycle lanes were temporarily widened.

But such changes must not be reversed, argues Heather Cheesbrough, of Croydon council. “Continuing to promote walking and cycling is a huge opportunity for boroughs to help make the switch to sustainable travel and to take the motor car out where possible,” she says.

London’s parks continue to become more important post-pandemic. The rewilding of the capital’s dead industrial land and waterways, the planting of trees and widespread creation of living walls will aid mental wellbeing and filter the air, while addressing the ecosystem crisis, too.

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Key change: regeneration is set to spread out from the new HS2 hub at Euston station. Up to 3,850 new homes are earmarked for the area (HS2/Grimshaw)

A 30-year plan for Thamesmead will transform it from a failed sink estate into a sustainable neighbourhood just 20 minutes from the West End, once Crossrail arrives into nearby Abbey Wood. The housing association Peabody is set to deliver 8,000 new homes and create 4,000 jobs, improving access to five kilometres of riverbank, seven kilometres of canals, six lakes, three nature reserves and over 350 acres of open space.

In March residents voted for plans to regenerate the Lesnes Estate, replacing old houses with new energy-efficient homes.

Shared-ownership apartments set around communal gardens are available at The Reach in West Thamesmead. Prices start from £69,375 for a 25 per cent share of a one-bedroom home. Visit peabodysales.co.uk for details.

Landmark Pinnacle, one of London’s tallest residential towers at 75 floors, is on the South Dock in Canary Wharf with views over the Thames. Residents will be able to cycle to Bank, Waterloo and King’s Cross in under 30 minutes using the Cycle Superhighways network. Prices for a one-bedroom apartment start from £559,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7718 5202

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From £1,500 a month: 128 new apartments and 12 mews houses in the 1,200-home Sugar House Island scheme in Stratford

Stratford’s in the spotlight

Stratford is one of the most transformed areas of the last 15 years, according to New London Architecture. The east London neighbourhood was earmarked for regeneration from the early Nineties and the plan submitted in 2003 to turn it into a major new employment district with 4,500 new homes and a vast urban shopping centre in the shape of Westfield Stratford City, was the largest planning application ever in Greater London.

These ambitions helped secure the 2012 Olympic Games for the capital. The former 2012 Athletes’ Village is now residential East Village, home to more than 6,000 people, 23 shops, a school, a health centre, 35 acres of parks and public gardens.

The regeneration ripple has spread from there into Hackney and out to Royal Docks. Loft apartments are for sale currently at Stone Studios in Hackney Wick E9, between Victoria Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with prices starting from £442,500 up to £1.1 million. The building has a concierge, a restaurant and bike storage. Contact Savills on 020 7226 6611.

Available for rent are 128 new apartments and 12 mews houses in the 1,200-home Sugar House Island scheme in Stratford. There will be a new primary school, a row of independent shops, a dance studio and communal parks. Eight train stations, two cycle routes and five bus routes will service the new neighbourhood. Rents for a three-bedroom mews start from £1,500 per month.

The regeneration of Old Oak

The £26 billion regeneration of Old Oak Common and Park Royal in west London is the next major work on the grand plan.

The 160-acre wasteland in Acton will be revived by a new £1 billion transport super hub, the only HS2 and Crossrail interchange, plus a high street linking the station with the £3 billion Imperial College campus.

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From £599,000: homes at 54-storey One West Point, part of the £26bn regeneration of Old Oak Common and Park Royal, west London

This new micro town will unify an area already home to 4,000 residents, 2,000 businesses and 43,000 workers alongside Wormwood Scrubs common and six kilometres of Grand Union Canal.

A three-year cultural programme is under way to connect these micro communities. Homes are on sale in Old Oak’s One West Point, a 54-storey tower with gym, yoga studio, soft play and co-working space. From £599,000 (sales@onewestpoint.com).

Old Oak will mark the start of the west London regeneration corridor through Ealing, Southall and Hanwell. A new residential quarter, 127 West Ealing, launches this month with 142 one- to four-bedroom homes and communal gardens. It will be a two-minute walk from the West Ealing station, a Crossrail stop from next year. Prices from £475,000, visit 127west-ealing.com for more.

Investment for London’s villages

London is unlikely to attract the same levels of overseas funding after Covid-19.

A new breed of investor is needed to make “local” viable. Andy Downey of civil engineers Elliot Wood calls for enterprising ethical developers to help create a “fairer and more resilient city”.

And perhaps the large pension funds backing factory-assembled housing could now focus on creating communities.

Investment in London’s villages shouldn’t signal the end of central districts. But it’s time to invest in the town centres full of boarded-up units, charity shops and takeaways.

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