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A London-wide Green Belt and MOL Review

A London-wide Green Belt and MOL Review

Sally Furminger & Steven Butterworth 05 Dec 2019
Once again London’s housing requirement is recommended to be a capacity-based figure, rather than one meeting local housing need (as required in the rest of the country). With proposed amendments to the housing requirements (see our previous blog) the gap between housing need and housing target will be c. 14,000 dwellings per annum (dpa). To help address the ever-increasing backlog, the panel recommend a comprehensive Green Belt review. This blog addresses the above findings of the Panel who examined the draft New London Plan and reported on it, last month. We commend the recommended Green Belt review and explore a number of (as yet) unanswered questions on its deliverability. The Panel’s Key Findings In seeking to answer how best to accommodate London’s strategic development needs, the Panel asked: ‘‘Should some of London’s development needs be met through reviewing Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land?”. The resounding finding of the Panel is: yes…but not yet…not as part of this New London Plan. The Panel concludes that: “…the inescapable conclusion is that if London’s development needs are to be met in future then a review of the Green Belt should be undertaken to at least establish any potential for sustainable development.” (para 457); and, “given our conclusions about the ability to deliver housing and industrial development within London it would be wrong to unilaterally rule out changes to the Green Belt.” (para 460) The Panel’s recognition of the need for a Green Belt Review followed similar calls and evidence from multiple parties during the EiP[1]. Its recommendation represents an opportunity to do more to meet London’s strategic needs through a plan-led approach to unlocking sites in locations where development is urgently needed, rather than the present reliance upon planning by appeal[2]. It also provides the potential to identify larger Green Belt land releases which could become new growth areas. MOL too? It would appear from the Panel’s questions and report that this review would equally apply to the capital’s Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).  And so it should.  The rein to review the performance of both Green Belt and MOL land across London would be loosened by the Panel’s recommended changes to Policies G2 and G3, to remove the blanket provision that de-designation of both GB and MOL will not be supported. The recommendation is to ensure consistency with national policy, requiring reference to de-designation only in ‘very special circumstances’[3].   When? To avoid a ‘limbo’ situation where-by the Plan would be delayed, the Panel recommends that the Mayor leads a ‘‘a strategic and comprehensive review of the Green Belt in London as part of the next review of the London Plan’’ (PR35) (our emphasis). The Panel suggests (para 596), the earliest date for a draft Plan would be at the end of 2022 (albeit noting the Mayor suggests summer 2023). It goes on to conclude: “…there would be little to be gained from requiring an immediate review until such time as a full review of London’s Green Belt has been undertaken as recommended to assess the potential for sustainable development there and whether and how the growth of London might be accommodated. Therefore we make no recommendation that an early or immediate review of the London Plan should be carried out” (para 599) (our emphasis). The effect of that ought to mean an immediate review of the GB & MOL, so as not to delay the subsequent review of the Plan itself. Completion of that GB/MOL Review within 1-2 years from adoption of the New London Plan is achievable and necessary. How? The Panel is silent on how the review should be undertaken, save for recommending that an effective Green Belt review in London would ‘likely’ involve joint working and positive engagement with adjoining authorities and boroughs (para 454). It is left to the GLA to indicate the means by which the comprehensive review is to be undertaken in the New London Plan (PR35), albeit they ask for a central methodology to be devised by the GLA, to ensure consistency. In our (Lichfields) submissions to the Panel, we argued that a comprehensive review of Green Belt and MOL must be undertaken in each Borough with the objective being to determine whether there is (or isn’t) designated land which does not meet one or more of the ‘purposes’ and should therefore be released for housing or other development needs – the Panel identify there to be a medium to long term need for more industrial development (para 453). Where to prioritise? Whenever the London wide review is undertaken, what or where are the priorities? Some 22% of Greater London (35,109 ha) is designated as Green Belt and almost 10% (15,681 ha) is designated as MOL. These designations are not though spread evenly across London (see GiGL map below): More than half of the total area of Green Belt is found in just three outer London Boroughs (Bromley, Havering and Hillingdon); The twelve inner London boroughs (20% of London’s land area) contain just over a quarter (27%) of Greater London’s MOL; and Inner London is 14% MOL and 0% Green Belt whereas, outer London is 9% MOL and 27% Green Belt. Figure one: Area of Green Belt and MOL per borough. Source: Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, on behalf of CPRE London, September 2018 We suggest that the GLA ought to consider which of the London boroughs have already undertaken reviews of GB/MOL land and whether these are up to date having regard to the GLA’s future central methodology. Lichfields has recently undertaken a review of all (19) outer-London Boroughs to identify which had undertaken reviews of their Green Belt and/or MOL land to support either adopted or emerging local plans. Our review found that: Three boroughs had undertaken reviews to support both adopted local plans and either undertaken (Croydon, Havering) or stated intention to undertake (Enfield) reviews to support emerging local plans. Three boroughs had undertaken reviews to support adopted Local Plans only (Hillingdon, Redbridge and Sutton). Five boroughs had either undertaken (Barking and Dagenham, Hounslow, Kingston) or stated intention to undertake (Barnet and Waltham Forest) reviews to support emerging Local Plans only. This leaves eight boroughs that have not undertaken a review to support either emerging or adopted local plans.  Figure one: Green Belt/ MOL Reviews undertaken by Outer London Boroughs. Source: Lichfields It follows that, whilst all London Boroughs should be required to undertake a review using consistent methodology, the GLA might first focus attention on those outer London Boroughs with the highest proportion of GB and MOL land, that have not undertaken a GB and/or MOL review to support either an adopted or emerging Local plans. Notably this would be Bromley where 56% of the land in the borough is currently designated Green Belt or MOL. The seven other boroughs in this category are Bexley (27%), Brent (7%), Ealing (21%), Haringey (17%), Harrow (28%), Merton (26%) and Richmond (54%). In addition, Hillingdon (43%) and Sutton (26%) last undertook Green Belt and/or MOL reviews c. 5 years ago and so, arguably, have not ‘recently’ done so. The key implication of the Panel’s recommendations is that the pressure to review how Green Belt or MOL sites perform against the designation criteria is likely to increase. A discerning move for developers involved in land acquisition could be to seek options for acquiring inappropriately designated or poorly performing Green Belt or MOL sites that are suitable for housing or industrial development, particularly in those boroughs who have not recently undertaken a review of this land. We do hope the Mayoral team will appreciate the priority that ought to be given to an immediate Green Belt and MOL review, when providing the Mayor’s response to the Panel’s recommendations and the ‘Intend to Publish’ version of the London Plan at the end of December. This requires early establishment of an assessment method, so that the potential for releases to provide for sustainable development can inform the next London SHLAA and subsequently the Plan itself. See our other blogs in this series: In search of London’s future industrial land New London Plan Panel Report: Homes for all? Lichfields will publish further analysis on the London Plan Panel Report and its implications in due course. Click hereto subscribe for updates. [1] including Lichfields (as part of the Dylon 2 Ltd/ Relta Ltd submissions to the Plan Examination)[2] See related Planning Matters blog by Steven Butterworth, July 2019 [3] See related Planning Matters blog by Simon Slatford, December 2018  

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Optimising Housing Delivery and London’s MOL

Optimising Housing Delivery and London’s MOL

Steven Butterworth 01 Jul 2019
Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) is a strategic planning designation, introduced by the 1976 Greater London Development Plan. Its purpose is to protect open land of significance for London as a whole, providing useful and attractive breaks in the built-up area (GLDP para 9.8). It is a different planning concept to the Green Belt (GB) but one afforded the same status and level of policy protection. Almost one third of London is designated as either MOL or GB[1]. Yet, in preparing the New London Plan (NLP), the Mayor of London has not reviewed London’s MOL or GB boundaries, nor is there any material change to his policies dealing with ‘inappropriate development’ proposed with the MOL or GB. Understandably, therefore, the extent to which London has capacity to meet its identified housing and other development needs within its own boundaries, outside the MOL and GB, was a big issue at the recent NLP Examination. There are relatively few major housing appeals in London where this tension is played out. The review of the factors that the Secretary of State or his Inspectors have found to collectively amount to Very Special Circumstances (VSC) to clearly outweigh the adjudged harm to the GB or MOL since the July 2018 NPPF, undertaken by Planning Resource on 13 March 2019, identified just one London MOL case and that related to the QPR Football Club training centre in LB Ealing. In the above context, the decision on 26 June to grant planning permission on appeal for 151 homes on a MOL site adjacent to Lower Sydenham station in LB Bromley – a scheme the Inspector found to be fundamentally different to the 253 homes scheme dismissed on the same site in 2016 – is of considerable interest. Dylon 2 Appeal Site Lichfields annotated Bromley Local Plan and Lewisham Core Strategy Proposals Maps Source: Aerial Photograph 2018 © Relta Ltd The 1.86ha triangular shaped appeal site (edged red above), to which there is no public access, lies on the edge of the New Beckenham MOL. The western edge of the site, next to the London to Hayes railway line and industrial estate beyond, contains small scale pavilion buildings and compounds for storage and vehicle parking. A track enclosing a grassed area, once a private sports pitch associated with the former industrial use of the adjoining site, lie on the eastern side of the site adjacent to the densely vegetated riverbank and large private playing fields beyond. Immediately to the north of the site lies Crest Nicholson’s Dylon 1 development (site edged orange), comprising 223 homes in 5 to 8 storey buildings, and Bellway’s 159 homes under construction in 5 to 9 storey buildings on the Maybrey Works site (site edged yellow). Planning Considerations The sustainable nature of the site next to  railway station providing good links to central London mainline stations was not contested. Four of the five main issues identified by the Appeal Inspector, Mr George Baird, are pertinent to the tension between optimising housing delivery and MOL policy.On the first issue, whether the Council could demonstrate a 5YHLS, Mr Baird found that all the recently adopted Local Plan allocations and all contested outline planning permissions to be undeliverable, as what LBB provided in its evidence and under cross examination came “…nowhere close to the clear evidence [required by the definition of ‘deliverable’ in the revised NPPF] to demonstrate that there is a realistic prospect that housing completions will begin on site within the relevant 5-year period” (Appeal decision, paras 9 & 18). These elements alone reduce Bromley’s supply from the claimed 5.6-years to 4.25-years, this being “…materially below a level of undersupply that the lpa acknowledge is significant” (para 18). On the second, the effect of the Dylon 2 scheme on the openness of the MOL, he found that: Spatially, the replacement of the previously developed land on 38% of the site with two (4 to 5 and 5 to 8 storey) buildings amounted to no greater building coverage and as such would have no greater impact on openness (para 20); and Visually, whilst the proposed buildings “would have a material impact on openness, that impact would be mitigated by the level of existing screening, its setting below the skyline and the gap between the two new buildings” (para 21). Dylon 2 Landscape Plan, © Ian Ritchie Architects Aerial Visualisation of Dylon 2 Scheme, © Ian Ritchie Architects On (3), the effect of Dylon 2 on the character and appearance of the area, Mr Baird considered: the buildings proposed are not ‘tall buildings’, as the two blocks of varying height would not exceed the heights of the buildings in the adjacent Dylon 1 and Maybrey Works developments, nor result in a significant change to the skyline (para 24); and “This staggering of height combined with the separation of the buildings, the finesse of the design and detailing…combine to create a development of exceptional architectural placemaking quality that has a lightness of touch and appearance. The setting of the development along the western edge of the site, the extent of the landscaped and publicly accessible park to the east and south combined with the lighter scale and mass of the development combine to create a development that relates sympathetically to the site and MOL’’ (para 26). Finally, the Inspector found there to be ‘other considerations’ which, collectively, clearly outweigh the substantial weight attached to the harm found due to the extent of the residential development proposed (by definition ‘inappropriate development’) and the harm adjudged to MOL openness, such that VSC exist to justify the Dylon 2 development (paras 35 – 38). Mr Baird attached very substantial weight to the contribution made to the provision of housing and, in particular, the pressing need for affordable housing. He noted only 65 net affordable homes were completed in Bromley between 2012 & 2017, the borough’s affordability ratio is 14.26 and the only 28% of the 1,424 affordable homes needed per year is forecast within the 5YHLS (para 33). The Inspector concluded that the future position for general and affordable housing in Bromley looks bleak and Bromley’s housing requirement is “…going to increase materially” in the NLP (para 35). He also attached very significant weight to the environmental and recreational benefits arising from the creation of a new public park, significant weight to the architectural and townscape quality of the scheme (commending the Appellant’s engagement of an architect and practice of national and international repute) and moderate weight to the economic, locational regeneration benefits of the scheme (paras 36-37). Commentary I consider this housing appeal success provides a useful London MOL example of the factors required to demonstrate that VSC exist. Whilst, every development proposed within the MOL or GB must be considered on its own merits, there are a number of factors in this case which I expect to have increasing resonance in London once the NLP is published in early 2020.These include (not an exhaustive list): Housing Need & Shortfall: If the London housing capacity-based target increases to anywhere close to the 65,000 dpa identified in the draft NLP ( as is expected), there are likely to be a number of (mainly outer) London boroughs which will be unable to demonstrate either a 5YHLS or a plan on how to address the shortfall against the increased requirement. Affordable Housing Need & Delivery: The extent of affordable housing completions, the likely supply against the need and local (un)affordability, and the contribution a proposal makes to both. Site Location: The extent to which sites lying on the inside edge of MOL are located close to transport hubs or in other locations with good public transport accessibility and are sustainable and suitable locations for housing. MOL site specifics, such as: how much is ‘previously developed land’ and how does the proposed development compare to the existing development footprint? can a MOL site be seen, from where and what is the sensitivity, and what is the visual effect of that change in volume on openness? how does a site relate (or not) to adjoining MOL? can public access and recreation and environmental benefits to the MOL be secured? Scheme Design: High quality place-making, landscape design and building architecture, responsive to an (often) transitional urban context, is required, such that a design by a creative architect can be highly influential. Overall, the pressure to review how GB or MOL sites (like Dylon 2) perform against the designation criteria is likely to increase. This can and ought to be addressed whenever an LPA undertakes a comprehensive review of its GB and MOL boundaries as part of its local plan evidence base, but far too few such reviews are undertaken by LPAs in London. Unless there are more individual borough reviews, or a comprehensive review of all GB/MOL land across London, perhaps conducted by a Single Joint Expert (as the Appellant’s team have promoted at the NLP Examination), then one can expect more housing within the MOL/GB to emerge throughout the lifetime of the NLP.   [1] Source: Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, Mapping London’s Green Belt and MOL, September 2018: https://www.gigl.org.uk/mapping-londons-green-belt-and-mol/ Lichfields provided MOL, Housing and VSC (including Socio-Economic) Evidence to the Dylon 2 Inquiry, on behalf of Relta Ltd and Dylon 2 Ltd, the Appellant. Other Evidence was provided by West & Partners, Montagu Evans, Tetlow King, Ian Ritchie Architects and Mr P Finch. The team was led by Christopher Young QC and Leanne Buckley-Thomson of No5 Chambers.   

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