London planning news, June 2020


London planning news, June 2020

01 Jun 2020



Headline news


Borough response to COVID-19

Since the beginning of lockdown, London boroughs planning officers have continued to validate and process most applications, albeit there have been some delays and service provision has varied as a result of each borough’s ability to undertake specific administerial tasks and procedural requirements, as one would anticipate.
Whilst there had been some initial difficulties in meeting publicity requirements, Regulations introduced on 13 May now allow local authorities to take alternative steps to publicise planning applications, recommending social media or other electronic communication, if they cannot discharge the specific requirements for site notices, neighbour notifications or newspaper publicity.
Many boroughs had previously managed to adapt to the current circumstances, adopting new local procedures to meet publicity requirements. Some local planning authorities (LPAs) have been posting site notices once a week, while many others have been requesting applicants to erect notices themselves.
It is not yet clear whether any boroughs have taken advantage of the new provisions; the alternative measures appear to be conditional on an LPA not being able to meet the permanent requirements set out in the DMPO 2015; this raises questions as to whether authorities who had continued to meet the permanent requirements would now be entitled to switch their approach.
The Regulations also extend the minimum time that authorities must give for representations to be made in newspapers from 14 to 21 days. Prior to this, some boroughs had already extended general local requirements on consultation times, with Southwark Council extending its consultation period for all applications to 28 days, and Harrow to five weeks for all major and potentially contentious applications, for example.
As for determination, most London boroughs previously had either cancelled or postponed Committee meetings. Last month we reported that some boroughs such as Merton had increased powers of delegation to officers temporarily to enable decisions to continue to be determined, however the passing of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and subsequent secondary legislation has now enabled authorities to resume public meetings remotely via virtual means.
Many boroughs have subsequently taken advantage of the temporary statutory provisions and held remote committee meetings, including Hillingdon, Hounslow, Ealing, Westminster and Greenwich, the City of London, and Newham.
Our experience so far of remote Committee meetings has on the whole been positive, with meetings well-structured and running relatively smoothly, though some minor technical difficulties have resulted in meetings taking slightly longer and occasionally feeling slightly disjointed. In one meeting we attended a Member’s internet connection was lost and they were consequently not allowed to vote on the decision that was under discussion at the time.
In terms of public engagement, some boroughs have encouraged this to be done by written representations, others are allowing parties access to remote meetings and providing time to speak. Newham’s Local Development Committee meeting on 18 May was undertaken using Zoom as well as being broadcast on Facebook Live to allow for wider public engagement. Hounslow’s Planning Committee was held via MS Teams for Members (of which there were six) and registered speakers, while publicly available to view on YouTube.
Plan-making may also be delayed as a result of issues with consultation. Ealing Council has stated that it is continuing local plan preparations with minimal disruption, though there may be some delays in arranging stakeholder meetings. Barking & Dagenham is set to undertake its Regulation 19 consultation for its new Local Plan this summer, but public engagement may be impacted as a result. The City of Westminster’s Draft City Plan has been paused pending further evidence, with the hearings on the Local Plan delayed to June/July 2020.
For a more detailed picture of local responses, please see our dedicated tracker monitoring the response from local authorities, as well as our comprehensive guidance covering the recent changes to national policy and law.




Quote of the month

As well as helping to tackle our housing shortage, home building can generate enormous economic and social benefits at this time of great uncertainty but this can only happen with proper safety provisions in place to protect the health and safety of the vast home building workforce and the communities in which our members work.

David O’Leary, Covid-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce member and Policy Director at the Home Builders Federation


Mayor sets out response to Secretary of State addressing next steps of the London Plan

On 24 April, the Mayor responded to a March letter from the Secretary of State (SoS) that had directed halting the publication of the new London Plan, unless a number of directions were incorporated into the Plan, or otherwise alternative changes to identify the SoS concerns were agreed upon.
The Mayor has now confirmed he has requested his officials begin conversations with MHCLG, regarding alternative policy changes to the London Plan. These would be instead of those directed by the Secretary of State.
A total of 11 changes had been put forward in the SoS’s letter in March, the principle of which were to ensure an adopted Plan was in accordance with national planning policy and to boost the delivery of new homes in the capital.
Most significantly, the SoS had called for changes to the Plan’s policies for Green Belt and MOL in-line with national policy, allowing the scope to demonstrate ‘very special circumstances’ and ‘exceptional circumstances’ for Green Belt development for Green Belt/MOL reviews and applications.
The Plan’s industrial land policies were also challenged by the SoS, with the Mayor directed to remove the ‘no net loss’ principle for development proposals on designated SIL/LSIS.
Policy D3, which aims to optimise site capacity, has been tempered, rather than optimising density across the board, this now calls for boroughs to seek gentle densification in low and mid- density areas ‘‘ensuring that development takes the most appropriate form for the site’’.
The SoS also required the Mayor to place greater focus on delivering family housing, whilst emphasising the role of one and two bed units in freeing up existing family housing. Interestingly, policies to help optimise the density of development have been lessened slightly; whilst more flexibility has been insisted upon for residential and retail parking standards.
In his most recent letter to the SoS, the Mayor said:
“I believe some amendments will be required to ensure the directions are workable in practice. My officials have now assessed their specific impacts and we consider amendments are needed to the modifications in order to remove policy ambiguities and achieve the necessary outcomes”.
Further details of the SoS’s directions can be found in this recent blog, as well as in Lichfields’ April London Planning News.

Mayor of London, Letter to the SoS 24 April 2020

Panel launched to support the recovery of London’s housing sector

Deputy Mayor Tom Copley has launched a new taskforce aimed at supporting London’s housing sector in its recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
The panel, which is made up of representatives from local government, housing associations and representatives from the development and construction sectors, are set to meet every other week to discuss specific challenges, “speak with one voice to influence Government and ensure best possible outcomes for London”.
Taskforce member and Policy Director at the Home Builders Federation David O’Leary said:
“As the industry works towards a new way of building and selling homes the challenges in London are particularly acute […] Achieving this will require extensive collaboration between all parties on whom housing delivery is dependent, but the scale of London’s housing crisis requires strong action and clarity from London’s Boroughs, the Mayor and the government.”
The taskforce intends to focus on ensuring the sector can continue to deliver of affordable and social homes continues, potentially by seeking forward funding from Government to support the delivery of affordable homes where these are currently delivered through the cross-subsidy of market sales.

Deputy Mayor brings together London housing sector to plan recovery

Secretary of State consents to his decision being quashed

The Secretary of State’s decision to approve 1,524 new homes across six towers reaching up to 44-storeys in height at the Westferry Printworks site in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) has been quashed.
We reviewed the Secretary of State’s decision in our February 2020 planning news (link below), which provides a summary of the site’s history and the reasons why he disagreed with the Inspector.

On 18 March LBTH issued a press release that said:
“The council is arguing that the process the Secretary of State followed in determining his appeal was influenced by a desire to help the developer to avoid a financial liability, notably the council’s revised Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges. It has asked the court to order the disclosure of documents that it believes will show this was part of his consideration”.
The press release included a quote from the Mayor of LBTH:
“We have concerns about the way he reached his decision and I hope the courts will now look closely at the circumstances”.
This was a reference to the Council’s revised CIL charging schedule taking effect on 17 January 2020; the SoS had made his decision on 14 January. In November 2019, the Planning Inspectorate had written to LBTH advising that a decision would be made on or before 20 January 2020.
On 21 May, another press release announced LBTH's explanation of the background to the quashing of the planning permission:
“In March, the council initiated legal action against the secretary of state, alleging that the timing of the decision appeared to show bias in deciding to allow the appeal.

The council asked the court to order the government to disclose documents that it argued would show the secretary of state was influenced by a desire to help the developer save money by avoiding the council’s revised Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges.
[…] The Westferry Printworks decision was made just one day before the council adopted changes to its CIL levels, which would mean the developer had to pay between £30 million and £50m more to the council.
Faced with the prospect of having to release documentation relating to the decision, the secretary of state chose to allow the planning permission to be quashed.

Mayor John Biggs said: “We may never know what emails and memos the secretary of state received before making his decision and what influence they had, but his reluctance to disclose them speaks volumes””.
An Isle of Dogs ward councillor posted the consent order on Twitter (see below).
The appeal will be redetermined in a new planning policy context, notably a revised CIL charging schedule.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets press release, 22 May 2020London Borough of Tower Hamlets press release, 18 March 2020Lichfields London Planning News, February 2020Councillor Andrew Wood, Isle of Dogs Ward Councillor, posting the consent order on Twitter, 27 May 2020

GLA publishes draft Circular Economy SPD

The GLA has published (pre-consultation) draft guidance advising how applicants should prepare a Circular Economy Statement as required by Policy SI7 in the draft new London Plan.
The document defines the Circular Economy, as one where materials are retained in use at their highest value for as long as possible, then subsequently reused or recycled, leaving a minimum of residual waste. The draft London Plan Policy requires all referable schemes to provide a Circular Economy Statement, these are defined as developments:
  • comprising 150 residential units or more;
  • over 100,000m2 (in the city), 20,000m2 (central) or 15,000m2 (outer);
  • over 25 meters in height within the Thames Policy Area, over 150m height elsewhere in the City of London or 30 meters in height elsewhere in London;
  • where existing buildings which will increase their height by more than 15m; or,
  • on Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land.
The draft guidance explains that Circular Economy Statements will need to demonstrate how development proposals will incorporate circular economy measures into all aspects of the design, construction and operation process. Referable applications will need to demonstrate the following:
  • how all materials arising from demolition and remediation works will be re-used and/or recycled;
  • how the proposal’s design and construction will reduce material demands and enable building materials, components and products to be disassembled and re-used at the end of their useful life;
  • opportunities for managing as much waste as possible on site;
  • adequate and easily accessible storage space and collection systems to support recycling and re-use;
  • how much waste the proposal is expected to generate, and how and where the waste will be managed in accordance with the waste hierarchy; and
  • how performance will be monitored and reported.
Whilst the guidance has been published as a pre-consultation draft, it states that it will be formally consulted on following the publication of the London Plan.

Mayor of London, Circular Economy Statement Guidance - pre-consultation draft

Secretary of State dismisses recovered appeal on design grounds

Following a number of recently recovered appeals being allowed in the capital since the General Election (December 2019), the Secretary of State (SoS) has dismissed an appeal for a mixed-use development consisting of 499 homes, 3,725m2 of commercial floorspace, alongside retail and leisure facilities, citing concerns over the design of the scheme and the its residential quality.
The proposed development was located on the site of an existing single story business park in the London Borough of Southwark, surrounded by relatively low-rise residential streets.
Whilst it was found that the scheme would introduce housing onto land designated as a Local Preferred Industrial Location, the Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector that provision of new good quality B2 premises on site would provide a significant increase in the number of available jobs relative to what currently exists at the site.
The key issue was the insufficient quality of the new homes proposed. Although the overall design quality and character of the development were viewed favourably, with the improvements to permeability through the site and the provision of a “vibrant public realm” given significant weight in the planning balance. However, when looked at in the round, both Inspector and Secretary of State agreed that too many compromises had been made in the design of the scheme, noting the size of a significant proportion of the residential units, the wheelchair housing and the quantum of amenity space all being of concern. The compromises that have been made in the design of the development had been at the expense of the overall quality of the living environment. The SoS / Inspector both therefore found that, even if the scheme could be considered acceptable or satisfactory in the round, this would not be sufficient to justify a density that would be 40% above the accepted range in policy.  
The size of a significant number of homes were also of concern. The Council’s own assessment of the scheme had revealed that 37% of the units would be at or within 1m2 of the minimum space standards set out in the SPD and the London Plan which the Inspector found would not demonstrate a significant enough exceedance in order to be regarded as exemplary. To be regarded as exemplary, the proposed development, the proposal would need to significantly exceed the minimum floorspace standards in Southwark’s Residential Design Standards SPD.
The SoS noted that the emerging London Plan was at an advanced stage. Interestingly, he considered those policies in the emerging new London Plan which are relevant and are subject of his March directions for modification (including and importantly, Policy D3 optimising site capacity through the design-led approach) to carry moderate weight in this decision. Other policies in the emerging nLP which were relevant to this appeal & where no modifications have been directed carry significant weight when assessing the relevant policy considerations.
In short, both the Inspector and Secretary of State considered that the applicant had sought to “maximise” the use of land rather than “optimise” it, which had resulted in a less than satisfactory level of quality of proposed development.
While the provision of 499 homes was considered to be a benefit, this was only afforded moderate weight in the planning balance (in this case) due to the quality of the accommodation being found to be unsatisfactory.

Recovered appeal: Burgess Business Park, Parkhouse Street, London SE5 7TJ (ref: 3225548 - 29 April 2020)

Mayor announces Streetspace strategy

The Mayor has announced that many streets around central London will be converted to walking and cycling only, as part of the Mayor’s new Streetspace strategy, to aid social distancing measures as lockdown restrictions are eased.
TfL has already begun work on expanding its strategic cycling network to help reduce the strain on busy tube, train and bus routes. Many streets in and around town centres have also begun to be adapted to allow for wider pavements to allow for space for queues outside shops as people safely walk past while socially distancing.
The Mayor has stated that TfL will measure the effectiveness and impact of the measures and may make some of the changes permanent.

Transport for London, Streetspace for London



The Lichfields perspective

It is encouraging to see that, for the most part, local planning authorities have adopted a proactive, business as usual approach to planning and that the Mayor’s office is now looking to support the recovery of the housing sector from the repercussions of COVID-19.
Hannah Whitney, Planning Director

Disclaimer: This publication 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 refraining from acting on any of the contents of this publication. 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 publication. Lichfields is the trading name of Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners Limited. Registered in England, no.2778116