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The New London Plan: Higher Densities; A Focus on Small Sites and a Huge Hike in Affordable Housing Targets

This year, December 1st has added significance.  Not only is it the first day of advent and the first socially-acceptable day to put up a Christmas tree*, but it is first day of the consultation period for the new draft London Plan.

The proposals set out in the draft London Plan have been called many things during the last couple of days**, but whatever you think of them, they are likely to be controversial.

In particular:

  •  The plan significantly increases housing targets, both for the city as a whole, and in particular for the suburban boroughs. The draft plan states that  650,000 homes set to be built across London by 2029, with more than 250,000 in the outer suburbs. 
  •  This uplift in housing numbers is, in part, to be achieved by focussing on increasing housing density throughout London.  The plan includes a new policy on "optimising housing density" requiring new developments to "make the most efficient use of land and be developed at the optimum density". This is likely to conflict with the local plan policies of a number of London boroughs, which require significant amenity space provision within new developments. It is also likely to increase the average height of developments throughout the capital. Although this last point is hardly surprising given that;
  •  The Mayor has also promised to protect the metropolitan green-belt, and therefore qualifies for the metaphorical lapel badge that I mentioned in last week's post on the budget***. Given that London is surrounded by green-belt,  higher densities and moving more of London's housing need onto boroughs in the home counties (and effectively pushing people into the commuter belt) is the only way to increase housing numbers whilst avoiding green-belt releases.  Which rather neatly brings me onto the next bullet point, which proposes;
  •  A "new approach" to working with councils in the wider South East to explore "opportunities for additional growth in sustainable locations outside London". This is probably a nice way of saying that the Mayor would rather like the local authorities around London to pick up some of the city's unmet housing need.
  • There has been an equally ambitious hike in affordable housing targets for the borough, with an overall aspiration of 50% of new homes being genuinely affordable - with a minimum of 35% affordable housing on private sector developments and 50% on developments on public sector land. This does tie in with the Affordable Housing SPD released the other month; but will be quite difficult to achieve given the Mayor's proposed hike in Mayoral CIL rates, which was consulted on over the summer. There is only so much money to go around in any development and the more that gets ring-fenced for CIL payments, the less there is available for the provision of affordable housing.  I also suspect that this policy will not go down well with the retirement living community, who are already challenging the Affordable Housing SPD for failing to recognise the differences between specialist housing types, such as those aimed at older residents, and standard open market housing schemes.
  •  For the first time, the plan sets specific targets for the proportion of housing that London boroughs should deliver on 'small sites' i.e. those of 25 homes or fewer. This is intended to provide a boost for smaller housing developers, and should help with the age old issue of land supply for the smaller development company, but won't tackle the issue of remediation cost - which can cause issues on smaller sites.

There are also eye catching promises about improving fire-safety, which is a must following the Grenfell Tower tragedy earlier this year, stronger protections for pubs and the night-time economy; car free developments; and 'growth corridors' intended to focus new developments around proposed transport hubs.

There is a lot in the plan for people to get their teeth into and, what with one thing and another, I suspect the consultation period (which closes in March 2018) is going to be quite eventful....

* A topic which has been the subject of many, lengthy, debates in my house. 

** I have heard it called everything from 'ambitious' to 'bonkers' depending on the policies being discussed.

*** If anyone wants to start making a 'I pledge to protect the green-belt' lapel badges, I would be more than happy to buy a batch and start posting them out to relevant politicians as and when the inevitable promise gets made...

The GLA said that the new plan also promises:

Greater protection for industrial land
A "new approach" to working with councils in the wider South East to explore "opportunities for additional growth in sustainable locations outside London"
Making sure tall buildings are "in the right places and built to high design and safety standards"
New homes and jobs alongside planned new infrastructure in "growth corridors" such as Crossrail 2, the Thames Estuary, the Bakerloo Line extension, the Elizabeth Line and High Speed Two
Stronger planning protection for pubs
Powers for boroughs to refuse planning applications for new fast food takeaways near schools
Measures to improve fire safety

The plan includes an overall housing target for the capital of 65,000 homes a year and raises targets for the vast majority of London boroughs.