Planning matters

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The London Plan: A new direction for planning in London
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 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. 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’. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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 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. Post-Grenfell, a Fire Statement will have to be submitted with all major development proposals.   Green infrastructure 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 Car-free developments (housing and commercial) feature in well-connected locations in new maximum parking standards that no longer give ranges. The Mayor continues to oppose Heathrow’s expansion – unless there will be no additional noise or air quality harm. 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 can be read here. Click here to subscribe for updates.

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Back to the future for industrial strategy?

Back to the future for industrial strategy?

Ciaran Gunne-Jones 28 Nov 2017
Monday saw the long-awaited launch of the government’s Industrial Strategy. But you have to have some sympathy for Business Secretary Greg Clark – by mid-morning the headline writers had become somewhat distracted by news of a certain royal engagement. That’s a shame, because the Strategy is intended to be one of the government’s flagship policy initiatives and rightly deserves attention. Further analysis of the Strategy’s key implications will follow from Lichfields, but in the meantime, here are 10 of its highlights: It’s a long document, some 130 pages, as long as the consultation Green Paper which preceded it earlier this year. Whilst it contains an overview section of sorts, you wonder whether a punchy executive summary version might have been helpful to distil the essence of what the government is seeking to achieve and to help reach the widest audience. It was also accompanied by a set of other useful policy papers and analysis, including a review of the Catapult Network programme. It is unashamedly an “industrial strategy”, a term which had until recently fallen out of fashion. The perceived failures of previous industrial strategies (recall DeLorean?) have lingered long in Whitehall’s collective memory. More recently, Vince Cable reintroduced the concept during his tenure as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills within the Coalition government. However, from very early on in her premiership, Theresa May had called for a “proper industrial strategy” to deal with the challenges of low productivity, regional disparities and, of course, Brexit. The “10 pillars” set out in the Green Paper are now the “5 foundations”: ideas; people; infrastructure; business; and places. If the concepts are broadly similar, the rationalisation is probably helpful. It may also be that someone has dusted down HM Treasury’s five drivers of productivity framework that was widely applied in the 2000s, which is perhaps not surprising given that improving productivity is a core aim of the Strategy. An independent Industrial Strategy Council will be established, comprised of investors, economists and academics from across the UK. This will operate alongside the Economy and Industrial Strategy Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, which will remain responsible for driving delivery across government. There is a real sense that government wants the Strategy to cut across all government departments – something recently advocated by Michael Heseltine – and shape policy-making at all levels. It adds detail to some of the announcements trailed in last week’s Budget – see the Lichfields’ summary – for example the Transforming Cities Fund, further devolution deals and the Oxfordshire housing deal. It confirms how important the Industrial Strategy is intended to be in the policy hierarchy and as an agenda which binds together all of the government’s various initiatives to support economic growth across the UK - from funding to devolution to skills. The Strategy avoids “picking winners” – rejected as part of the Green Paper – but does set out a clear agenda around sector deals, which act as partnerships between the government and industry on sector-specific issues and funding settlements. Just four are agreed (artificial intelligence, automotive, life sciences and construction), while others are in the works (creative, manufacturing and nuclear), and the challenge is there for other sectors to follow. Local industrial strategies are now a defined deliverable to be brought forward by local enterprise partnerships and mayoral Combined Authorities. These are to be agreed with government, with the first to appear by March 2019 (anything else happening that month?). Areas with potential to drive wider regional growth, focusing on clusters of expertise and centres of economic activity, will be prioritised. Existing strategic economic plans and local economic strategies may need to be reframed or refreshed. There’s some important detail in the Strategy. For example, there are indications that the government will broaden appraisal methodologies to ensure the full potential for infrastructure to support local economies over the long-term is given weight in decision-making. It also introduces a ‘rebalancing toolkit’ to improve the focus, quality and transparency of ‘rebalancing’ evidence in strategic business cases, particularly to support high value transport investments in less productive parts of the UK. I’ve recently experienced first-hand the importance of making the evidential case for just this type of infrastructure project. There’s more specific recognition of the role of housing delivery in supporting the growth of local economies, something widely identified in consultation responses to the Green Paper. Interestingly, housing has already accounted for nearly 40% of National Productivity Investment Fund allocations made to date. The government reiterates that it wants to support places with ambitious and innovative plans to build additional homes where they are needed, and which will support wider economic growth. There’s not much reference specifically to planning, other than in relation to housing delivery. That might be a missed opportunity, as after all, local planning authorities are also charged with meeting the needs of modern businesses and their supply chains, particularly where local advantages exist (albeit these are not always well understood). It will be interesting to see if government takes the opportunity to bring the Industrial Strategy firmly into the planning lexicon as part of the draft revised National Planning Policy Framework expected in Spring 2018. There’s much else to consider and reflect on; watch this space for further analysis from Lichfields on the Strategy’s key implications.      

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