Following delays caused by the general election, Robert Jenrick as the Secretary of State has published his directions to the Mayor of London concerning the adoption of the new London Plan. Being the first time that a London Plan has undergone this process where the Mayor and Secretary of State sit on two sides of the aisle, this response has been keenly anticipated – the directions themselves have not disappointed.
In a scathing letter to Sadiq Khan, Robert Jenrick has set out changes to the London Plan which must be made before it can be adopted. This letter included criticism for being unambitious, a failure to deliver the housing London needs over the Mayor’s tenure, and even maligning “empty threats” to introduce rent controls in the capital – with Jenrick insinuating that these threats are empty as they would require the backing of central government. With the relatively significant changes to the Plan being imposed by Secretary of State, this backing appears to be at an all time low.
A summary of the directions imposed is provided below:
Affordable Housing: Support for affordable housing provision on sites delivering less than 10 units must be removed.
This support for locally set triggers for minor scheme affordable housing contributions is cited as undermining national policy specifically against this type of contribution, as well as previous written ministerial statements (See WMS HCW50)
Housing Mix: Reference to be added encouraging provision of family-sized units.
The letter has accused the Plan of “driving people out of the capital when they want to have a family”.
Density: Further support for higher densities in the right locations (i.e. well-connected to jobs, services, or by public transport) added, as well as addition of support for “gentle densification” in low- and mid-rise areas.
The term “gentle densification”, as well as backing for wide-spread mid-density development rather than development for high density and high rise schemes, chimes with the recommendations of the recent Building Better Building Beautiful Commission report, which concluded that the needs of the future can be met through mid-rise development. This report is also slated to influence amendments to the NPPF (2019) later this year.
Industrial Land: All references to ‘no net loss of industrial floorspace’ in Strategic Industrial Locations removed. Specific references added which state that release of SIL is appropriate where vacancy rates or other evidence suggest this is appropriate.
The principle of no net loss of industrial floorspace in SIL was heavily criticised during the Plan’s Examination in Public. Now, every reference to the ’no net loss’ principle must be removed, and there is added support for SIL release and SIL substitution where evidence suggests this is appropriate. The suggested supporting text lists comparison with London-wide vacancy rates as appropriate evidence.
Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land: Added reference to development in the Green Belt being acceptable in ‘Very Special Circumstances’, removed sentence stating de-designation of Green Belt would not be supported by the GLA. MOL policy brought in line with Green Belt, with sentence stating “proposals that would harm MOL should be refused” removed and sentence stating quantum of MOL should be maintained, and quality should be improved, also removed.
It is unsurprising that these directions do not include a requirement that the Mayor undertake a Green Belt review prior to adoption of the new London Plan – as requested within the Inspector’s Report previously. Regardless, the Mayor is being asked to bring both Green Belt and MOL policy in line with national policy. Both will be treated with the same test, with development being considered acceptable where ‘Very Special Circumstances’ can be demonstrated.
Parking Standards: Greater flexibility for parking provision in outer London, standards in general closer to those in the currently adopted London Plan.
The directions include parking requirements which closely matches the 2016 London Plan, and allows for flexibility in parking provision for the outer London boroughs. This has been imposed given Jenrick’s view that clear and compelling evidence has not been provided which demonstrates any change is necessary, and to support housing delivery in outer London which could be unlocked through a higher provision of parking spaces.
It is notable that there are exclusions from the directions set out, given the matters raised in the Inspector’s Report published last year. No criticism has been raised as to the Mayor’s co-operation with the boroughs neighbouring London with regards to Green Belt release and industrial capacity, and the affordable workspace policy of the new London Plan remains unaltered.
Nevertheless, the changes required above mark a significant departure from the Plan which the Mayor was willing to publish. It remains to be seen how the Mayor will respond to this letter, and whether he will highlight the conflict between the reining in of the Plan by the Secretary of State’s Inspectors, who lowered housing targets and softened the support for development on small sites, and this antagonistic response from the Secretary of State himself.