On 22 October 2019 the Inspectors’ Report of the Examination in Public of the London Plan 2019 was published, which included a schedule of suggested changes required in order for the London Plan to be found sound prior to adoption by the Mayor of London.
Here we identify the key changes that the Inspectors require and some of the possible implications.
It is an open secret that developers and Councils alike saw the Mayor’s housing targets for small sites as overly optimistic. The Inspectors have agreed, reducing the boroughs’ housing targets and in some cases quite dramatically. These reductions have specifically lowered the amount of housing required on small sites. This impacts upon the individual boroughs to varying degrees, ranging from the reduction of Camden’s 10 year target by 500 units to a 7,700 unit reduction in Barnet.
There is a general pattern of the outer London boroughs facing a more dramatic cut in their housing targets as a result.
Given the Mayor’s commitment to accelerating house building to deliver more affordable housing, his reaction to this suggested reduction in London’s housing delivery target will be interesting as we head towards the Mayoral election. The reaction of the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, will be equally interesting given the pressure London’s unmet housing need places on housing markets in the south east, many of which are Conservative.
Perhaps in recognition of the pressure many authorities proximate to London have been under to review their Green Belt boundaries, the Inspectors have intervened in the Mayor’s ‘do nothing’ approach to reviewing London’s Green Belt boundaries.
The report recommends that the Mayor leads a London-wide Green Belt review as part of a future London Plan review. The review must also consider whether Green Belt land is released for industrial uses which cannot be accommodated elsewhere. With immediate effect the London Plan must also reflect policy relating to development in the Green Belt set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, including an allowance for development in ‘very special circumstances’.
Developers and property professionals who have been actively promoting residential development in London over the past three years will be entirely familiar with the Mayor’s ‘fast track’ affordable housing policy. Although this appeared in draft in a supplementary guidance document in November 2016, and later unaltered in all the iterations of the draft London Plan, it has been applied with the rigor of adopted planning policy by the Greater London Authority since first published.
The commitment to the policy been such that even the most pragmatic of the boroughs advise that any scheme meeting the threshold must have at least 35% of affordable housing.
Much of the industry has observed that the unintended consequence of this policy has been to render development sites genuinely unviable and, with that, actually reduce the delivery of affordable housing across the Capital. The flaws of the policy were explained to the panel of Inspectors over several days of the examination, and despite numerous representations from those across the industry the Inspectors have found the policy sound as drafted.
Similarly, the Inspectors have upheld the requirement for 50% affordable housing on designated industrial land.
The development industry has been equally concerned that the emerging affordable workspace policy which lends weight to boroughs with affordable workspace policies in place. The Inspectors concluded that the policy is in conformity with national planning policy which seeks to support small business and start-ups reflecting the genuine affordability problem of workspace in parts of London.
The policy has therefore been found sound with the only amendment being that it is no longer necessary to have such space fully leased before the other elements of a scheme are occupied. Any commercial landlord would deem this amendment to be fundamental.
The Mayor’s published timetable is for full adoption in February/March 2020. The Mayor now has eight weeks to advise Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, of his intention to adopt the plan.
The Secretary of State will then have the opportunity to allow the adoption of the London Plan with the incorporated amendments, or he can intervene should he consider it conflicts with national policy or be of detriment to the interests of an area outside Greater London. To do so would of course mean calling into question the planning judgement of his own department’s Inspectors, and risk appearing opportunistic as a Mayoral election looms.
Nevertheless, given the criticisms of his predecessor during the planning consultancy process and these unusual political times an intervention by Jenrick cannot be ruled out.