Sadiq Khan’s “fast track” planning reforms are successfully boosting the amount of affordable housing in new developments in London after a decade of decline, according to City Hall planning chief Jules Pipe.
The deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills told yesterday’s meeting of the London Assembly’s Planning and Regeneration Committee that major schemes referred to the Mayor are now including an average of 41 per cent affordable housing.
Schemes must be referred to City Hall by council planners for final approval where they include 150 homes or more, include buildings higher than 30 metres, or encroach on Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land, with the Mayor offering fast track decision-making where at least 35 per cent affordable housing is on offer.
Half of all these major applications are now going through the fast track process, thereby avoiding detailed and time-consuming scrutiny of their financial viability, Pipe said.
Khan inherited a pipeline of just 15 per cent of applications offering 35 per cent affordable homes when he took office in 2016, with developers’ affordable offers declining throughout his predecessor Boris Johnson’s tenure from a high point of 39 per cent in 2010.
His 35 per cent threshold reforms, spearheaded by then then deputy for housing James Murray, now MP for Ealing North, came officially into force in 2017 via supplementary planning guidance with immediate impact, according to industry analysis.
But continuing to rely on developer contributions to provide affordable homes, even combined with City Hall grants, is “not a viable way of delivering the amount that we need as a capital city,” Pipe warned. “Sixty-five per cent of homes built should be affordable. We are nowhere near that. That system doesn’t provide it.”
There was a risk too that developers were now being asked to “do too much”, he added. “So many large developments are expected to do basic infrastructure, social infrastructure, perhaps land for a secondary school – and then affordable housing as well.
“Some viability statements are absolutely fair. We can’t find further monies within a development to address all the issues that local people, the local planning authority and we at the GLA would like to see.”
Squeezing developer returns, now down from 20 per cent to around 12.5 per cent, could be counter-productive, he said. “Much below that and the real estate community will say we don’t get enough return in London. We will go and develop somewhere else, thank you very much.”
And reliance on developers to deliver a wide range of benefits was also fuelling opposition to new development, he added. “When everything is not all achieved to everyone’s satisfaction, that causes problems. People understandably don’t see provision of affordable housing as in itself sufficiently balancing the loss of an amenity they’ve enjoyed.”
Pipe also warned that the rise in online shopping and home deliveries risked congestion and increased pollution in the city, as well as impacting on land prices.
“It’s getting to the point now where logistics space is worth more to a developer than using that land for housing,” he said. “It’s giving London a real problem. In an ideal world we need to see lots of spaces for combining last mile deliveries, with 100 per cent electric vehicles.”
City Hall planning officers also confirmed that a meeting between the GLA and Whitehall officials on Tuesday had revealed no further details on the future of government planning reforms, described by Pipe as “going against the grain” of planning policy for the past 50 years or longer.
Watch the planning and regeneration committee meeting in full here.
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