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Policy D7 Public realm


Development Plans and development proposals should:

  1. Ensure the public realm is safe, accessible, inclusive, attractive, well-connected, easy to understand and maintain, and that it relates to the local and historic context, and incorporates the highest quality design, landscaping, planting, street furniture and surfaces.
  2. Maximise the contribution that the public realm makes to encourage active travel and ensure its design discourages travel by car and excessive on-street parking, which can obstruct people’s safe enjoyment of the space. This includes design that reduces the impact of traffic noise and encourages appropriate vehicle speeds.
  3. Be based on an understanding of how the public realm in an area functions and creates a sense of place, during different times of the day and night, days of the week and times of the year. In particular, they should demonstrate an understanding of the types, location and relationship between public spaces in an area, identifying where there are deficits for certain activities, or barriers to movement that create severance for pedestrians and cyclists.
  4. Ensure both the movement function of the public realm and its function as a place are provided for and that the balance of space and time given to each reflects the individual characteristics of the area. The priority modes of travel for the area should be identified and catered for, as appropriate. Desire lines for people walking and cycling should be a particular focus, including the placement of street crossings.
  5. Ensure there is a mutually supportive relationship between the space, surrounding buildings and their uses, so that the public realm enhances the amenity and function of buildings and the design of buildings contributes to a vibrant public realm.
  6. Ensure buildings are of a design that activates and defines the public realm, and provides natural surveillance. Consideration should also be given to the local microclimate created by buildings, and the impact of service entrances and facades on the public realm.
  7. Ensure appropriate management and maintenance arrangements are in place for the public realm, which maximise public access and minimise rules governing the space to those required for its safe management in accordance with the Public London Charter.
  8. Incorporate green infrastructure into the public realm to support rainwater management through sustainable drainage, reduce exposure to air pollution, manage heat and increase biodiversity.
  9. Ensure that shade and shelter are provided with appropriate types and amounts of seating to encourage people to spend time in a place, where appropriate. This should be done in conjunction with the removal of any unnecessary or dysfunctional clutter or street furniture to ensure the function of the space and pedestrian amenity is improved. Applications which seek to introduce unnecessary street furniture should normally be refused.
  10. Explore opportunities for innovative approaches to improving the public realm such as open street events.
  11. Create an engaging public realm for people of all ages, with opportunities for formal and informal play and social activities during the daytime, evening and at night. This should include identifying opportunities for the meanwhile use of sites in early phases of development to create temporary public realm.
  12. Ensure that on-street parking is designed so that it is not dominant or continuous, and that there is space for green infrastructure as well as cycle parking in the carriageway. Pedestrian crossings should be regular, convenient and accessible.
  13. Ensure the provision and future management of free drinking water at appropriate locations in new or redeveloped public realm.

The public ream includes all the publicly-accessible space between buildings, whether public or privately owned, from alleyways and streets to squares and open spaces, including the Thames and London’s waterways. Some internal or elevated spaces can also be considered as part of the public realm, such as shopping malls, sky gardens, viewing platforms, museums or station concourses. Such forms of public realm are particularly relevant in areas of higher density.

The quality of the public realm has a significant influence on quality of life because it affects people’s sense of place, security and belonging, as well as having an influence on a range of health and social factors. For this reason, the public realm, and the buildings that frame those spaces, should be multi-functional, attractive, accessible and contribute to the highest possible standards of comfort, good acoustic design, security and ease of movement. As London’s population grows the demands on London’s public realm to accommodate a greater variety and intensity of uses will increase. It is particularly important to recognise these demands in higher density development.

The public realm should be seen as a series of connected routes and spaces that help to define the character of a place. Around eighty per cent of public realm in London is in the form of streets and roads. A small proportion (less than eight per cent) of these have the primary purpose of moving large numbers of vehicles through them, while most are intended to be quiet residential streets used for play, recreation and local access. The remaining streets are places which function as key centres for leisure, shopping, and accessing services and employment, such as high streets or public squares.

The specific balance between the different functions of any one space, such as its place-based activities and its function to facilitate movement, should be at the heart of how the space is designed and managed. The Mayor’s Healthy Streets Approach, explains how the design and management of streets can support a wide range of activities in the public realm as well as encourage and facilitate a shift to active travel.

Pedestrian crossings should be accessible and provide tactile paving and associated dropped kerbs or level access in accordance with national guidance.

Places should be distinctive, attractive and of the highest quality, allowing people to meet, congregate and socialise, as well as providing opportunity for quiet enjoyment. Public realm is valuable for London’s cultural activity, providing a stage for informal and everyday culture and for organised cultural activity. The opportunity to incorporate these uses should be identified and facilitated through careful design and good acoustic design.

Legibility and signposting make an important contribution to whether people feel comfortable in a place, and are able to understand it and navigate their way around. Transport for London’s Streets Toolkit provides detailed design guidance for creating high quality streets and public spaces.

Even when a development does not include the creation of new public realm it will have an impact on neighbouring public realm. Therefore, any impact or change to the conditions, use or nature of existing public space brought about by a development should meet the requirements of this policy.

The effective management and ongoing maintenance of public realm should be a key consideration in the design of places and secured through the planning system where appropriate. Whether publicly or privately owned, public realm should be open, free to use and offer the highest level of public access. These spaces should only have rules restricting the behaviour of the public that are considered essential for safe management of the space. The Mayor will develop a ‘Public London Charter’ which will set out the rights and responsibilities for the users, owners and managers of public spaces irrespective of land ownership. The rules and restrictions on public access and behaviour covering all new or redeveloped public space and its management should be in accordance with the Public London Charter, and this requirement should be secured through legal agreement or planning condition.

The lighting of the public realm needs careful consideration to ensure it is appropriate to address safety and security issues, and make night-time activity areas and access routes welcoming and safe, while also minimising light pollution.

The provision of free drinking water fountains helps improve public health, reduces waste from single-use plastic bottles and supports the circular economy through the use of reusable water bottles. Free drinking water fountains that can refill water bottles as well as be drunk from should be provided in appropriate locations in new or redeveloped public realm. Appropriate locations for these water fountains should be identified by boroughs during the planning process. These locations include areas with high levels of pedestrian activity, such as in town centres and inside shopping malls, as well as areas of the public realm used for play, exercise and relaxing, such as parks and squares. The ongoing management and maintenance of facilities should be secured and agreed at planning stage to ensure long-term provision is achievable.

Opportunities should be identified by boroughs and applicants for the meanwhile (temporary) use of phased development sites to create attractive public realm. Parameters for any meanwhile use, particularly its longevity and associated obligations, should be established from the outset and agreed by all parties. Whilst the creation of temporary public realm makes the best use of land and provides visual, environmental and health benefits to the local community, planning permission for more permanent uses is still required.