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The planning system has four main roles: to develop long-term strategies for improvements to urban infrastructure and its operation; to control and monitor land use and new building development; to protect exceptional buildings,

structures and spaces, and to promote sustainable design and the reduction of energy use. 

Planning is not easy. The planning system has to balance the needs of individual citizens with those of local areas and the city as a whole. It must also manage many competing interests and address many, very different questions. What kind of controls over land use will benefit the city most? How can sufficient private development, responsible for most of London's buildings, be encouraged, and at the same time be controlled for the public good? How should we decide on what buildings we should save and protect for the future? How best can we increase the supply of good quality, energy efficient, affordable housing? How can we use planning to increase safety and well-being in the city? How can we make the city more resilient to future environmental and economic shocks?

Planning controls affect London's buildings throughout their life cycle. To begin with, only certain types of activity will be permitted on a building plot. The building's design, form and size must also be approved, with its construction system and materials required to meet current standards. The extent to which the building can be extended and adapted once it is built is also controlled, subject to the scale of proposed work, and whether the building is 'designated' as being of special architectural or historic interest. Designation will also affect the lifespan of a building, through its protection from demolition. More recently the energy efficiency of new buildings has also been regulated, with many existing buildings, and all new buildings, now rated for energy performance. Information on both controls, and individual applications, to build or extend existing buildings, can be accessed via the Planning Portal and are managed by individual local authorities. In some cases data held on applications will span many decades.

All the data we are collecting are designed to support sustainable planningThe Colouring London platform has also been created to increase transparency within the planning system, advance the development of predictive planning models, encourage much longer term planning horizons, and facilitate knowledge transfer between planners, with their complex and extensive remit, and the communities they serve. 



London's planning system has its roots in the health and sanitation acts of the 19th century. These were introduced to address the impact of rapid Victorian industrialisation, population growth and uncontrolled development, with the aim of limiting overcrowding and the spread of disease. This led to large-scale clearance programmes, from late Victorian period onwards. 

Planning was first developed as a formal system in the UK, during the 20th century. It was initially used to control suburban expansion and, later, to develop and implement comprehensive planning strategies after the devastation of World War II.

After the war, planning permission was required for new buildings, land use was

monitored and controlled, and buildings of exceptional historic or architectural value were 'listed'. Local authorities now also had to produce local plans. Large-scale clearance and comprehensive redevelopment within inner city areas was actively encouraged. However, by the late 1960s, backlash from many quarters accelerated the growth of the building conservation movement.  Local area protection was introduced in 1967, through conservation area controls, and listed buildings began to be formally protected from demolition from 1968.  The contribution of London's historic assets, many saved by public protest, is today recognised in The London Plan. There are currently around 19,000 listed buildings in London. Around 15% of London's buildings are located within conservation areas where permission to demolish is required.

During the 1980s markets were deregulated, new build and home ownership were encouraged, and private refurbishment of pre-war stock in London increased. From 2000 the impact of the environmental movement on planning began to be felt. From 2004, local authorities were required to demonstrate their contribution to sustainable development, and from 2008 their specific policies to mitigate climate change. Guidance on good design, greater community engagement and the identification of local community assets was also now included. In 2011 the Localism Act required authorities to place greater focus on the local consultation by developers on larger schemes.  Environmental Impact Assessments were introduced in 2017 to minimise negative environmental impact of developments, and to increase early community feedback, though these, so far, appear to be little used.

In the Greater London Authority's 2018 London Plansustainable development and social equity are seen as underpinning its 25 year spatial development strategy. However, though London's planning landscape is shifting towards a more sustainable model, lack of easy-to-access open data, and data visualisations, on London's stock, along with ongoing difficulties for communities to actively engage with the planning system, continue to hinder this process. Issues also exist with the fact that, despite the energy and waste implications of demolition, no evaluation of a building's socio-economic and/or environmental 'value' is required, prior to replacement, for around 85% of London's stock.  

Attempts are made to address both these issues within Colouring London, with the 'Like?' category specially designed to improve feedback loops. In this section information of planning records, and on special controls applicable to buildings, is collected. For the remaining 85% stock there is no presumption ' value' in the building to be assessed  planning system does not require  evaluation of  has no requirement.





Demolition is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the drive to make our cities more sustainable. Since the 1990s the shift in focus in the European construction 

industry, from new build to reuse, has also driven interest in the extension of building lifespans. This keeps building materials, and their associated carbon reserves, held within stocks. In turn this reduces emissions, waste related extraction, and processing associated with replacement. Throwing away complex and valuable resources, which cannot be replaced, and that have evolved, adapted and been tested over time, particularly without proper assessment, is of increasing concern.

In London the constant churn of buildings, especially in high value areas, is still not tracked spatially.  Demolition permits are used to notify residents of dust and dirt but remain unpublished. Only non-spatial data on the number of dwellings demolished are collected. Demolition data for non-domestic buildings are not captured. Under a fifth of buildings in London are protected by any type of demolition control. No requirement currently exists for either embodied carbon, or embedded ‘value’ within a building to be assessed as part of the planning process.

Though poor physical condition is often used to justify demolition, recent scientific research has demonstrated that building lifespans are rarely related to their materials or methods of construction. Instead it is the 'value' placed on a building it by society that largely determines how long it lasts . This may be monetary value, historic value, community value or potential value in terms of supporting future economic growth. Ideas of 'value'affect every aspect of a building lifecycle, from its initial design, to regularity of repair, to its adaptation and reuse, and decision to protect it from demolition. In cities such as London one of the greatest threats to a building comes when it stops delivering the highest value for the land on which it is built. 

Colouring London's 'Demolition' category has been set up for the following reasons.  Firstly, to collect spatial statistics on demolition for London, and to allow the location of demolition to be tracked and visualised for the first time. Secondly, to enable the socio-economic and environmental impacts of loss of specific typologies to be more easily measured. Thirdly, to support the protection of local buildings, tried and tested by local communities and considered by them to be of long-term local value and ourthly, to support local authorities in conserving urban resources of value, and in meeting energy and waste targets.


'Proposed' demolition 

The 'proposed demolition' category allows local councils to notify residents, at an early stage, as to whether buildings in their area are proposed for demolition. This helps provide time for communities to feed back local knowledge, and increases transparency within the planning system.  It also gives London residents a new planning facility, that enables communities to add and update information on proposed demolitions themselves.


'Pending demolition' and 'Demolished' 

'Pending demolition' can be ticked where permission is known to have been granted for demolition. When this happens, information in the 'proposed' demolition' box above will clear. Here a planning portal reference number is required. Ticking the 'Demolished' box means the building has been demolished. This will automatically move all information on this building to the 'Historical construction and demolition' section. (OSMasterMap footprints will be updated every 6 months). 

'Historical construction and demolition'

To add data on the demolition history of sites please see our Dynamic/lifespan/History category. Here pairs of all previous constructions and demolitions on, or touching the current building/ plot are collected.  


Colouring London is an open data platform and we can only accept data from unrestricted sources. Just use first-hand knowledge of the building wherever possible, or, check your source is open and free for third party use.

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