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The London Plan: A new direction for planning in London

The London Plan: A new direction for planning in London

Margaret Baddeley & Giorgio Wetzl 29 Nov 2017
The draft London Plan has been published today for consultation, starting on 1 December this year and ending on 2 March 2018. The aim is that the Plan will be examined next autumn, and published just a year later. For now, the draft Plan is a material consideration in determining applications but chances are that it will carry little or no weight, at least until there is a response to consultation submissions, or after its examination.
 
The Mayor is using the draft Plan to deliver his manifesto commitments, according to the Plan this is justified by the scale of his election victory. As a consequence, it sometimes deviates from existing national policy and guidance, including where it reflects ‘the particular circumstances’ of London. The Mayor also says its content is supported by ‘a proportionate evidence base’.
 
Lichfields won’t comment on the draft Plan’s length; instead, we focus on its ‘more ambitious and focused’ content that starts to set new directions for planning London from 2019 to 2041 (with a review of its housing targets before 2029). These include delivering 65,000 homes each year (each borough’s housing targets are confirmed as published in October), achieving a zero carbon target by 2050 (including carbon free travel), and 80% of all trips in being made by foot, cycle or public transport by 2041.
 
The first of the draft London Plan’s two new ‘pillars’ is the concept of ‘Good Growth’ – this is ‘sustainable growth that works for everyone, using London’s strengths to overcome its weaknesses’ i.e. growth that is ‘socially and economically inclusive and environmentally sustainable’. It is no longer a term just used for design. The second is the ‘Healthy Streets Approach’ that is already being taken by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which puts improving health and reducing health inequalities at the heart of planning for transport and public space.
 
Despite the ordering of its content into topic chapters, the draft Plan states that it has to be read as a whole, with the order of policies being ‘no reflection on their importance or weight’.
 
So, turning to the draft Plan’s highly detailed policy content – this straightway causes some minor difficulties as there are policies included in other paragraphs (e.g. on ‘tenure integration’), but we will ignore that for now – here are our main observations on the new stances:
 
Housing
  1. The threshold approach is here to stay, confirmed as per the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG. A threshold approach is now proposed for small sites as well, to trigger the ‘presumption in favour of development’ policy. The impression is that, in London at least, this approach to planning will be further extended, if it can achieve its goals.

  2. Rumours that the affordable housing threshold would be raised to 50% - or even 65% - were unfounded. The 35% affordable housing threshold (for viability purposes) will stay in place until at least 2021, while the strategic target remains set at 50%. The reference to 65% affordable housing comes from the related identified need in the London SHMA. Interestingly, boroughs may consider applying localised affordable housing thresholds (more than 35% 'where possible') in Opportunity Areas, to provide certainty and ‘help prevent land price rises based on hope value’.

  3. The fast-track application determination route, initially designed for for-sale housing schemes that provide 35% affordable housing (and meeting other requirements), will be extended to more developments, such as Built to Rent, specialist older persons’ accommodation and purpose-built accommodation (both for students and shared living). The affordable housing tenure differs according to each development’s specifics.

  4. Small sites (up to 0.25ha and capable of delivering 1-25 homes) are the main new element in the ‘increasing housing supply’ catalogue of policies. These should be included in brownfield registers, and some of them granted permission in principle, as the Mayor expects almost 25,000 homes a year to come from these sites over the next decade. A presumption in favour of residential developments will also apply in certain circumstances –including, infilling, the densification of existing schemes within PTALs 3-6 or within 800m of a Tube or rail station, or a town centre.

  5. Existing supermarket sites, surface car parks, and edge of centre retail/leisure parks with sustainable transport should deliver ‘housing intensification’ through redevelopment, with new homes above e.g. commercial uses and transport infrastructure too. Town centre policies themselves hold no great surprises.

  6. Minimum space standards in the current London Plan remain unchanged. Communal amenity space in a housing development, e.g. as in Build to Rent/ ‘compact living’ etc., is not a justification for not delivering these minimum standards.

  7. The draft Plan is not anti-basement, nor anti the permitted development right (PDR) for changes of use of offices to homes – but it does not hide GLA support for Article 4 directions to prevent both (the office to residential PDR crops up numerous times and in many contexts).
 
Employment
  1. The Central Activities Zone (CAZ) and Northern Isle of Dogs will ‘remain vital’ to London’s economic success, but growth elsewhere in town centres across London will be ‘equally important’. Future potential reserve locations for CAZ office functions are Stratford and Old Oak Common. Low cost business space and affordable workspaces are promoted via s106, with fleeting policy reference to viability evidence for the latter.

  2. Strategic Industrial locations and Locally Significant Industrial Sites (SILs and LSISs) can be considered for intensification/ colocation and substitution (there is a handy diagram of what this means at Figure 6.3 in the draft Plan) – this has to be plan-led. Mixed use or residential development can take place on Non-Designated Industrial Sites but again, plan-led (and with higher expectations for affordable housing).
 
Design
  1. Design policies seek to micro-manage the impacts of all manner of development projects, particularly tall buildings. While the development industry has said that increased densities will sometimes have to be at the expense of good design, the draft Plan states that housing density should result from a design-led approach linked to planned levels of infrastructure. The first step in delivering good design is an evaluation to identify the capacity for growth (PTAL is still a measure for referable developments). Then design analysis and visualisation are required, masterplans and design codes follow, and design scrutiny using design review is undertaken.

  2. Post-Grenfell, a Fire Statement will have to be submitted with all major development proposals.
 
Green infrastructure
  1. The Green Belt, local green and open spaces, green roofs, street trees will all be protected. Metropolitan Open Land is not protected in the same policy terms; the local plan process should be used to change boundaries, whereas Green Belt ‘de-designation’ will not be supported. There is a new ‘urban greening factor’ for assessing new developments.
 
Transport
  1. Car-free developments (housing and commercial) feature in well-connected locations in new maximum parking standards that no longer give ranges.

  2. The Mayor continues to oppose Heathrow’s expansion – unless there will be no additional noise or air quality harm.

  3. Despite concerns around uncertainty already expressed, Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy (MCIL) will be charged, to secure funding towards transport infrastructure of strategic importance ‘such as Crossrail 2, and potentially other strategic transport infrastructure’.
 
Our first conclusion today is that the draft Plan requires some stiff editing before submission, with a lot less detail (after all, what will there be left for the supplementary planning guidance mentioned here and there in the draft Plan, that can be more ‘fleet of foot’?).
 
Second, the draft London Plan justifies the ‘Good Growth’ pillar as follows:
 
‘Every individual decision to provide affordable housing helps to make the housing market fairer. Every decision to make a new development car-free helps Londoners to depend less on cars and to live healthier lives. Every decision to build or expand a school improves the prospects of the next generation of Londoners.’
 
But from the development sector’s perspective, taking this approach has been instrumental in the draft plan’s policies taking on such a phenomenal degree of micro-control.
 
We can see a well-thought through strategic spatial development strategy, currently buried deep within the overly complex consultation document: that strategy needs to be extracted, published and consulted on and (eventually) approved in its own right. It is that spatial strategy that should be the new strategic plan for London.
 
The Draft London Plan can be read here
Further analysis of the Draft London Plan and its implications to follow. Click here to subscribe for updates.