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Draft London Plan EiP: Heritage and culture are now dusted
Lichfields is currently monitoring the draft London Plan Examination in Public (EiP), which is scheduled to last until May 2019, and will report on relevant updates as part of a blog series. The fourth blog of the series focuses on the hearing sessions for draft policies HC1-HC7 on Heritage and Culture, which took place on 8 March 2019.   The possible sources of land supply are becoming increasingly restricted and controls over development are becoming stronger as the London Plan Examination in Public (EiP) rolls on, all done in the positive spirit of preserving the best of London.  Planning has always exposed the dilemmas facing society. With the EiP Panel member Roisin Barrett doing her best to open up queries about the validity, effectiveness and the implications of seven proposed policies, the various participants and the Mayor’s team mostly agreed that each of those was indeed effective and important. On the capital’s heritage generally and with recognition that this is an essential component of Good Growth, all of the participants agreed with the GLA’s proposals and sought stronger controls and additions to policy.  Notable was the criticism that the policy is ‘only about architecture and archaeology’ and that there is a need to add environmental heritage – more categories of parks and gardens, ancient woodlands, inclusion of waterways with canals and rivers all being described as part of London’s archaeology – and to support wider cultural heritage through conserving the diverse lifestyles of Londoners. Nicky Gavron for the London Assembly Planning Committee rightly explained that such heritage is good for Londoners and also good more widely through its USP of environmental quality for its tourist visitors, bringing added economic value and added cultural value to the city – enjoyed by the world.  With the GLA Act 1999 not including a heritage role for the GLA, she sought encouragement for the Mayor to produce also a Heritage SPG through its planning powers. Interest groups pressed for inclusion of Conservation Area Management Plans and the intended National Park City designation to be recognised as planning tools.  And for the stronger approach of ‘preserve and enhance’ rather than conserve. There was general agreement that draft Policy HC1 on heritage should start with a new paragraph which sets out the overall reasoning for the policy, stressing the need for a comprehensive and much wider interpretation of heritage – both built and otherwise. The GLA team responded by indicating that it would add references to the importance of community involvement and the economic and cultural role of heritage.  Thankfully, all agreed that the wording of the tests of harm and balancing are well-expressed in the NPPF and that it did not need further referencing in the final Plan. Extra controls over London’s four World Heritage Sites (draft Policy HC2) were encouraged by all present, particularly following the UNESCO criticisms and the trial review studies of the Westminster WHS.  The GLA noted that buffer areas can be defined for close-up appraisals but that settings are much wider and their assessments should be built into the Plan and SPG.  And that cumulative effects of multiple proposals should form an additional assessment. The Westminster trial assessment had highlighted the need for 3D visual modelling to be established, now built into the evidence base for the Lambeth Local Plan Review and to be incorporated in the Westminster evidence base. Another tick for increased controls. The importance of managing and protecting London’s Strategic Views and locally-defined views through the long-winded draft Policies HC3 and HC4 was also generally supported.  The GLA said that it is seeking to update the London View Management Framework SPG (LVMF SPG) to have better information for each view, define new or better viewpoints, strengthen guidance on river views and to sort out in the Policy a better expression of concern for background views (following from the case of the Stratford block seen behind St Paul’s in the view from Richmond Park).  There was little or no questioning of the current basis for assessment, including whether telescopic views have any real relevance where things are not visible to the naked eye – arguably not ‘the viewer’s ability’ as required by policy.  There could be a continuing need for night-time assessment in key locations. With the criticism expressed that the LVMF approach ‘is still a Zone 1 Policy’, there was also a general consensus that local views – to be adopted through local plan reviews – should be given equal weight, even if they restrict delivery in Opportunity Areas.  And that new policies should include seeking the rectification of past mistakes rather than their acceptance. A big criticism was of the outdated technology expressed in the LVMF SPG and the need for better 3D modelling (apparently to be progressively delivered for free by the GLA).  However, the GLA said there would continue to be a role for parallel methodologies for the foreseeable future. So the morning session concluded with important existing and new protections and controls to be built into the system. The afternoon addressed London’s cultural activities and identities, noting in particular the effects of gentrification on settled and ethnic communities and the parallel economic pressures on small and creative businesses. Discussion on draft Policy HC5 supported the blanket protection to be offered to all cultural venues, facilities and activities across London, with only a written justification support for replacement where necessary for other similar purposes.  There was regular cross-reference to this also being part of the cultural heritage to be protected by heritage policy HC1. The need for retention and creation of spaces for creative industries was naturally encouraged, but together with the need to ensure that they do not detract from the neighbourhoods they sit in. Interestingly, the London Assembly Planning Committee pressed for the preparation of a Cultural Action Plan for all larger mixed use developments and for schemes of over 100 residential units, with audits of all existing businesses and jobs – matters now already being picked up by the Mayor in his decision-making. The night-time economy is to be supported (and controlled) by a new draft Policy HC6, encouraging locations in the CAZ, town centres and other locations around transport nodes. The difficulty will be the need for balancing of the pressures from operators and users with those from the adjoining residential areas – sounds familiar?  This is all apparently to be managed by ‘the involvement of local communities’. Lastly – the populist government and Campaign for Real Ale approach to protection for all remaining pubs in London is to be enshrined in draft Policy HC7, with little or no voices of opposition raised at the Panel session.  The Inspector had no questions for the GLA.  The GLA merely repeated that the required 2-year marketing period is necessary to avoid pubs being run down and avoided the question of how this could slow down delivery of Good Growth policies associated with new homes and jobs. So, the day was full of well-supported and important protections for heritage, World Heritage Sites, views, cultural heritage, the night-time economy and pubs.  There remains every prospect that these will be carried through to the final adopted version of the London Plan. But the day also naturally ignored the pressing issues from earlier in the EiP about the necessary delivery of sufficient homes for Londoners and the right spaces for their jobs when set against similar protections against the loss of industrial land, green belt and MOL, parks and gardens - and even back gardens – all tightening the screw on much-needed development options. There is no clear answer to this overriding dilemma and sets up an unenviable task for the Panel to write up.


Draft London Plan EiP, Affordable Housing: 3D snakes and ladders
Lichfields is currently monitoring the draft London Plan Examination in Public (EiP), which is scheduled to last until May 2019, and will report on relevant updates as part of a blog series. The third blog of the series focuses on the hearing session for draft policies H5-H8 on Affordable Housing, which took place on 26 February 2019. The Big Picture is the target for all housing being increased from 45,000 dwellings per annum up to 65,000 dwellings per annum in the draft new London Plan in the face of a 13% undershoot against even the previous target according to GLA (or 31% according to MHCLG).  Accordingly, the new target could be missed by as much as 40%-50% if delivery solutions do not change.  Moreover, the Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, has said that 80% of new homes in London are affordable to only 8% of the population. In terms of tenure, it was suggested at the EiP hearing session that market housing delivery has recently been running at over 30% above target, whilst affordable housing is sliding even further behind.  And the draft new London Plan seeks to deliver only 33,000 affordable homes per annum against its SHMA-identified target of 43,500 homes per annum. The more detailed ‘small picture’ includes the differences in delivery across London Boroughs, following former Mayor Boris Johnson’s earlier local relaxations against centralised targets.  At the EiP session, it was said that 19 of the 32 London Boroughs delivered no social rent housing at all last year – and that, from 2010 to 2017, the average delivery of all types of affordable housing was only 18% of all housing completions, with no borough averaging up to the mayoral target of 35%.  The subtlety in these figures is the recent rise in the proportion of delivery of intermediate products rather than social rent.  This is in part due to the recent first tranche of Government grants with, for example, Waltham Forest described as achieving 49% affordable housing delivery but with only 1% social rent. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) indicated that the reality of negotiations is that other policy priorities, including through s106 contributions, such as space standards, cycle provisions, CIL and affordable workspaces, come before affordable housing provision – with the resulting affordable housing percentage outcome being established after an appraisal has taken into account of all these factors (‘in accordance with other policies of the plan’). With the strategic affordable housing target proposed at 50%, the acknowledged reality is that this will generally be ‘dumbed down’ to 35%, as arising from the new threshold approach to affordable housing; however, the GLA said that the threshold approach is already proving successful by dragging those schemes proposing truly lower affordable housing percentages back up to 35% just to avoid full viability assessment and thereby saving precious months.  But Sian Berry (Green Party, London Assembly Member) noted that this approach effectively reduces the strategic affordable housing target down to 35%, with those schemes delivering lower levels balanced out by others, such as those delivered by Registered Providers and which provide higher levels of affordable housing (typically 70-80%).  The outcome thereby appears to be that the strategic target could never be met in practice and that the Plan would fail in its duty.  She therefore argued for a steady increase in the 35% threshold through proposed 5-yearly reviews to increase pressure – all with the impact of embedding lower land values generally. The GLA pleaded that central government funding approaches have changed since the first draft Plan (November 2017), with the lifting of the local authorities’ borrowing cap and the release of direct housing funding, and that the outcome of these changes is not yet clear, particularly with the relatively low level of subsidy per delivered unit– which is more useful in supporting intermediate housing rather than social rent.  It also noted that grant negotiations with central government are limited to only one week of discussions but that the consequences are long term, meaning that revisions from 35% for the threshold target every 5 years is in the nature of star-gazing in the face of general elections, Brexit, etc., even though the GLA is required to produce a sound and deliverable Plan. So, what are the pressures that affect affordable housing delivery in London? The current government is reluctantly engaging in social housing delivery, both through grant and allowing local authorities to borrow again, after its demise in the Thatcher era – although limiting the types of tenure by inherent support for intermediate products. Hence the arrival of London Living Rent as a new intermediate product (see Lichfields’ Insight Focus for more details).  National political changes (i.e. not controlled by the Mayor) mean continued uncertainty of this means of bridging the gap between what is needed and what can be delivered – up or down.  However, central government still also pressurises the Mayor to review the Plan, suggesting even higher overall targets (as per Standard Method figures). London Boroughs have different political agendas and differing approaches to delivery, including within negotiations with developers. It is often a matter of balance between quantum delivered (good news) and a revised tenure mix (mostly bad news) away from the historic 70/30 or 60/40.  Furthermore, there is the possible need to introduce a tariff-based contribution for affordable housing in relation to the small sites needed to deliver roughly 40% of London’s overall housing target. Tenants groups rightly complain that we are never going to meet real need with current or even proposed policies, noting that developers aim to maximise profits by going along with the rules and maximising the value of affordable housing in each case. However, central government is said to need to invest four times as much into affordable housing in London to allow Councils and Registered Providers to step up delivery to the plate and allow the London Plan to meet either the objectively assessed need or even the (lower) current target. Furthermore, developers try to maximise profits and turn sites around as quickly as possible, delivering just as much affordable housing as is required and no more. This builds in the lower 35% target as one to reach to avoid time-wasting or to avoid if nowhere near achievable. For public land owners, the higher 50% affordable housing threshold target is criticised as undermining a revenue stream that can fund improved services provision – why should NHS or TfL money be used for affordable housing in a particular local authority area? The high threshold will encourage public bodies to consider commercial alternatives rather than housing delivery.  There is also the ongoing question as to whether those bodies with a portfolio approach to such delivery levels across a ‘bundle’ of their sites would manipulate this to get lower levels of affordable housing in higher value areas yet still meet their target. For formerly-industrial land, the higher 50% affordable housing threshold also reduces the propensity to go for residential or residential-led mixed-use development – undermining yet another source for brownfield housing delivery. So, the EiP Panel needs to address and resolve these pressures as far as possible, deciding whether the GLA is right in adopting what it often described as ‘challenging yet deliverable’ policies to paper over the cracks.  To agree a target whilst not meeting identified needs.  To hope that political pressure on central government will continue the recent increases in support for Registered Providers and for Councils.  The urgent need for an updated London Plan will probably override indecision at this stage – an adopted Plan is better than no Plan – but that will lead to numerous unknowns.  Other than that, it is clear that the full need for affordable housing delivery to meet London requirements is beyond the control of the London Plan. Lichfields will publish further analysis on the draft London Plan Examination in Public in due course. Click here to subscribe for updates. This blog has been written in general terms and cannot be relied on to cover specific situations. We recommend that you obtain professional advice before acting or refrain from acting on any of the contents of this blog. Lichfields accepts no duty of care or liability for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from acting as a result of any material in this blog. © Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners Ltd 2019, trading as Lichfields. All Rights Reserved. Registered in England, no 2778116. 14 Regent’s Wharf, All Saints Street, London N1 9RL. Designed by Lichfields 2019