Government sign-off on Sadiq Khan’s draft new London Plan has been further delayed, with communities secretary Robert Jenrick announcing that he needs another four weeks to consider City Hall’s final version of the planning blueprint for the capital.
“You will appreciate this has been a very busy period for the government,” Jenrick says in his letter to Khan. “This means that I will respond to you on or before Monday March 16.”
Ministerial approval is the final stage in the protracted process for producing a new version of the Plan, which began in 2017. The delay means Jenrick’s verdict will come just a week before the start of the formal pre-election period in the run up to the 7 May election mayoral, during which the Greater London Authority and central government are subject to restrictions on activity that could be construed as “political”, including publicity about controversial matters.
The timing could help put the Plan – and the ministerial verdict – centre stage in the final weeks of the battle for City Hall, which has already seen Khan accused by Conservative London Assembly members of waging a “war on the suburbs” and his planning policies described as “threatening the character of our city”.
Ministers have previously suggested that Khan’s original housing target of 66,000 new homes a year being built over the next decade underestimated London’s housing need. But inspectors scrutinising the plan at its Examination in Public last year concluded that Khan’s target was unachievable.
In his final “intend to publish” version of the Plan, now on the secretary of state’s desk, Khan accepted the inspectors’ revised figure of 52,000 homes a year, dropping his small sites target and significantly reducing his new homes demands on the outer boroughs.
Where Khan remains at odds with the inspectors is on his Green Belt policy, sticking to his tough stance against development on it – it makes up 22 per cent of the city’s land area – despite the inspectors finding that his approach was inconsistent with national planning policy, which allows changes to the protected zone in exceptional circumstances, and calling for a new review of the potential for Green Belt development.
With the capital’s business organisations and the developers on whom the city is reliant for the bulk of new house-building united in supporting the call for a fresh look at the Green Belt, Jenrick will need to decide whether to back national policy or effectively side with his party’s London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey who said last week that there are “enough brownfield sites in London, so we don’t have to build on the Green Belt”.
The inspectors also contested Khan’s “no net loss of floorspace” policy for industrial sites, suggesting that the capital would need more industrial land over the coming decade and in doing so pointing up the conundrum at the heart of planning in London; how to meet the need for 66,000 new homes a year within the city’s boundaries, while simultaneously protecting the Green Belt in its entirety and not only retaining but also adding to industrial floorspace were necessary.
The inspectors’ recommendations put the Green Belt and the need to look beyond London to meet the city’s anticipated housing need on the table. London Plan-watchers, not only in the outer boroughs but in the wider south east bordering the capital, will know by 16 March how the communities secretary proposes to find a way through the dilemma.
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