London planning news, October 2020


London planning news, October 2020

12 Oct 2020



Headline news


Challenges and opportunities for London’s high streets

In a submission made to the Housing Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee’s inquiry into how town centre businesses and amenities can be supported through the pandemic, the Mayor has set out some of the key issues affecting London’s high streets, alongside the actions being taken by his office and the additional support that is required from Government.
Whilst the effects of the pandemic have varied across the hierarchy of London’s high streets and town centres, the impact has been most acute within London’s Central Activity Zone (CAZ). With many commuters having been furloughed or working from home, the number regularly travelling into the centre during the pandemic has fallen significantly. This reduced footfall has had a significant impact on many retail and hospitality businesses which are more reliant on trade from incoming visitors. The effect of this in central London has also been compounded by the closure of many of London’s cultural and leisure destinations, with the fall in both international and UK visitors causing knock on effects for retail and hospitality, particularly in the City and across the West End.
At a meeting of the London Assembly’s Economy Committee on 8 September, it was noted that the local centres located in outer London had begun to return to pre-pandemic levels of footfall and patronage at a much faster pace than London’s international centres such as the West End and City of London. London’s district centres have also seen a slightly faster return toward normality. Those high streets located in London’s outer suburbs have perhaps seen the biggest boost throughout the day time, due to the much higher proportions of people working from home. However, it was also noted that many of London’s street and market traders were struggling to return to normal trading, this may in part reflect the higher proportion of self-employed and independent retailers and potentially reduced access to financial support open to other businesses, such as business rates relief and grant funding.
Much of London’s cultural infrastructure still remains effectively closed, alongside many bars, pubs and other leisure uses. There are real concerns that this could have detrimental effect on the vitality of London’s high streets, these are key to attracting people into town centres, so the loss of these would likely have an impact on the viability of many other businesses operating in other sectors. To support this, the Mayor announced a £2.3 million Culture at Risk Fund in May, whilst in July a £1m Resilience Fund was set up to help small businesses and community groups adapt to the changes.
The Mayor’s response to the HCLG Committee does note some positive changes across the capital, with many Londoners reported to be connecting with their local area, whilst there has been a shift in the number of trips made on foot and by bicycle. This has been supported by TFL’s Streetspace scheme which has reallocated road space to encourage active travel, enabling economic regeneration by facilitating more walking and cycling to local high street. The GLA is also increasing its support for strategic and local partnerships, whilst making funding available through the Mayor’s Good Growth fund. Further detail on how London’s streets have adapted can be found in our recent blog.
In terms of more general trends, the Mayor has noted some larger retail units across the capital have begun to be adapted for a broader mix, with the introduction of independent retail offer, alongside other civic, social and cultural uses. Whilst these have mostly been led by leaseholders and local authorities, the GLA plans to collaborate more widely with landlords to support further diversification. Linked to this, there has also been a rise in planned strategic interventions led by local partnerships, which have helped pilot a response to the ongoing economic restructuring of our high streets.
The submission also confirms that the London Recovery Board is currently developing a High Streets ‘Mission’ and action plan, the document will set out Board’s plans to draw together the efforts of the GLA, the London boroughs, and London’s private, voluntary, and community sectors, in order to adapt London’s high streets and build-in resilience.
The Mayor’s response to the CLG Committee states that the (draft intend to publish) London Plan already promotes measures that will enable town centres and high streets to adapt, encouraging a more place based approach to design and development, through the provision of high quality public realm, providing better cycling and walking infrastructure, and added flexibility for cafes and restaurants to operate al fresco.
The Mayor has however highlighted the potential impact of the recent amendments to the Use Classes Order, most notably the introduction of the new Class E. The letter states that this could also lead to an increase in retail and other main town centre uses in less suitable out of centre locations. As a consequence, the Mayor has highlighted the risk that the ongoing economic restructuring may well be exacerbated, leading to even greater polarisation between successful and unsuccessful places. This may further impact on the investment in the very areas that are in most need of investment and support.
The Mayor has called on the Government to reinstate the disaggregation approach to new out of centre users that was previously included in national planning policy, as well as a requirement for more rigorous impact assessment procedures that would ensure out-of-centre development does not reduce the vitality of existing town centres. Furthermore, the Mayor has also called for a review of national guidance on change of use and main town centre uses, and support boroughs wishing to implement Article 4 directions to restrict the loss of shops and other facilities where permitted development rights allow these to change to offices and residential uses in sensitive locations.
In terms of additional support from Government, the Mayor has requested:
  • an extension of the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund;
  • an expansion and evolution of the Future High Street Fund to address the current challenges;
  • support from the High Streets Taskforce for the development of the London Data partnership; and
  • reinstating the retail reoccupation relief scheme from April 2020 and reforms to the empty property relief which.

Mayor of London response, HCLG Committee Inquiry – Supporting our High Streets after Covid 19London Assembly Economy Committee – 8 September 2020, COVID-19 and the High Street




Quote of the month

The ongoing economic restructuring of high streets and town centres is likely to gather pace. Localities important to the socio-economic function of London will be subjected to abrupt change and existing inequalities may well be heightened. More positively the response to the pandemic has also fostered a greater desire among people to connect with their local area and to shift to walking and cycling – with potential positive impacts for local economic development and resource efficiency.
Response from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to the Housing Communities and Local Government Committee Inquiry – Supporting our High Streets after Covid 19

‘Undeliverable' housing need target for London says Khan

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has written a letter to the Minister for Housing, communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick regarding the governments proposed changes to the Standard method for producing the scale of housing need in an area.
The open letter from Khan accompanies his office’s response to the consultation the government ran on its proposed changes to the standard method. Khans criticism centres around the algorithm of the method, which he has described as “not fit for purpose in a London context”, stating the method is not capable of responding to the complexity of London’s housing needs, particularly the need for affordable and social tenures of housing.
Whilst the proposed methodologies accounting of existing supply is to be welcomed, the method will continue to penalise authorities which choose to focus on affordable housing where housing stock is most expensive.
Under the new proposals, estimates that housing need in London will rise significantly from 56,000 to over 93,500. Khan has stressed the unrealistic nature of this increase for London, considering the frequency of high density development which already exists in parts of the city which leaves a lack of available land to deliver the required level of housing being proposed.
Within the response to the consultation, the Mayor has called for a more sophisticated methodology, where the need for affordable housing and the affordability of private rents are accounted for. Furthermore, the Government’s baseline for existing stock is unjustified and has been set too low. Instead the Mayor calls for the Government to:
  1. raise the existing stock growth factor to 1%
  2. remove the weighting for the level of affordability and remove the weighting for change in affordability over time
Khan has also expressed concern for the raising of the affordable housing exception threshold and the introduction of First Homes, which he believes will create sub-optimal conditions for developers to provide affordable housing delivery.
The letter also calls for greater devolution within the planning system, stating that increased intervention from national Government as a backward step for local planning.




The Lichfields perspective

London’s town centres have continually evolved to meet society’s changing needs and demands. The pandemic has rapidly accelerated their evolution with varied impacts across London’s town centre network. The future of London’s town centres will be guided by Boroughs taking a pro-active and strategic approach to planning through building partnerships and providing investment and support. Although the long-term consequences remain to be seen, amendments to the Use Classes Order provide immediate opportunities for adaptation and innovation.
Matt Pochin-Hawkes, Associate 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