Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has told Sadiq Khan to make further changes to his proposed new London Plan, after the Mayor informed him he intends to approve the city’s bedrock planning document on 21 December without waiting for the government’s formal blessing.
In a letter dated 10 December, the day after Khan’s was sent, Jenrick informs the Mayor that he is issuing him with two further “directions” requiring re-wording of Plan policies to bring them more into line with his own wishes.
Jenrick had previously issued eleven such directions in response to the “intend to publish” version of the Plan submitted to him by Khan exactly one year ago.
The intervention demonstrates Jenrick’s continuing readiness to use his legal powers to impose national government priorities on London, overriding those of the city’s directly-elected political leader and his own planning policy powers.
Khan was informed by Jenrick of the eleven initial directions in a letter dated 13 March, sent shortly before the pandemic forced the postponement of the mayoral election that had been due in May. The letter also contained criticisms of the Mayor’s housing policies and approach to regeneration in what was seen as an overtly political attack.
The minister’s new letter says “since I directed you on your draft plan in March it has become clear that there are some further issues” and proposes what he calls “a modest amendment” to one of his original directions, the intended effect of which would be to give boroughs “greater freedom to consider the use of Industrial Land in order to meet housing needs”. This, Jenrick, states would help boroughs “in the difficult position of facing the release of Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land” for house building.
His second direction concerns the draft Plan’s policy for tall buildings, which Jenrick instructs the Mayor must be changed to strengthen the power of borough councils to prevent them being constructed in their areas. “There is clearly a place for tall buildings in London, especially where there are exiting clusters,” Jenrick writes. “However, there are some areas where tall buildings do not reflect local character. I believe boroughs should be empowered to choose where tall buildings are built within their communities.”
Jenrick regards the Plan’s proposed policy as it stands as going “some way to dealing with this concern”, but wants to “strengthen” it “to ensure such developments are only brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas, as determined by the boroughs”. This second direction is likely to be seen as a response by Jenrick concerns among some Tory councillors in London about the Mayor “calling in” and approving applications for tall buildings against their wishes.
In a riposte to Khan’s complaint in his letter that City Hall officers have been waiting since the spring for Jenrick’s department to respond to their suggestions for amending the draft Plan, Jenrick says he is “pleased you share my sense of urgency in getting the London Plan published.” He adds: “I would be grateful if you could re-submit your Intention to Publish version of the Plan with amendments that address the 11 previous Directions and the two additional Directions. I will then be in a position to formally agree to the publication of the London Plan”.
Jenrick also refers to his critical letter of 13 March requiring the Mayor to “commit to a range of activities to support future housing growth in London” including “details of work on a strategy with the wider south-east authorities”. This requirement does not appear to be backed by any statutory obligation on the Mayor’s part.
A spokesperson for the Mayor said: “The secretary of state has responded to the London Plan we published in December 2019 and has included two new directions. We are considering these in detail and continue to engage with the ministry for housing, communities and local government.”
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