Government plans for a radical reform of planning rules have been strongly criticised by the cross-party body that represents the capital’s 33 local authorities.
London Councils has condemned “any moves towards a planning free-for-all” enabled by the proposals, published as a White Paper today, with Number 10 says will make it quicker and easier to build news homes and infrastructure by cutting “red tape”.
Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has claimed his intended changes will “lay the foundations for a brighter future”, but Darren Rodwell, London Councils executive member for housing and planning, has described them as “potentially disastrous for Londoners,” creating a danger of a reduction in the amount of new affordable housing built in the city by weakening boroughs’ powers, and warning that quality standards could also fall.
Stressing a desire for “more detailed information and reassurance from the government over how these changes would work”, Rodwell said that “councils play a crucial role in the planning system, safeguarding our communities’ long-term interests”. Nearly 60,000 homeless household are currently in temporary accommodation by London, accounting around two thirds of the national total.
Labour politicians in the capital have also been swift to criticise. Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley has derided a “confused mass of appalling proposals”. He’s also highlighted Inside Housing’s Peter Apps noting that getting rid of the “Section 106” clause of the Town & Country Planning Act could have big implications for the supply of below market level homes from private developers. “A new fixed infrastructure levy will be charged instead,” says Apps, for, according to the government’s press release, “discounted homes for local first-time buyers”.
The White Paper raises questions over the future supply of housing for Londoners in need of homes for social rent or similar and existing low cost home ownership products, typically for shared ownership. Analysis by the GLA last year anticipated that future Section 106 deals would produce 9,600 new “affordable” homes of all kinds a year – about one third of the total needed.
Camden leader Georgia Gould has also denounced the proposed measures and Westminster Labour Group leader Adam Hug has described parts of the plans as “lunacy” and called on local Tories to join him in defending “the principle of new developments properly contributing to the development of new social and affordable housing”. He added: “The idea that supply of market housing is going to dramatically impact price in inner urban areas (at least not to a point of being remotely affordable to most families) is fanciful”.
Green Party AM and mayoral candidate Siân Berry was also critical, saying an “imbalance of power” in a planning system “already heavily weighted towards big developers over local communities” will be made even worse by centralised “top down targets” and reduced scrutiny and rights.
“People living on estates in London will be chilled to see whole areas proposed to be set aside for ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ without a single mention of the rights of people already living there,” Berry said. “These new proposals don’t even set out whether residents will have a real say over the areas where they have made their homes and communities being earmarked for instant planning permission.”
Conservative AM Andrew Boff, housing spokesman for the London Assembly Tories described the plans as “a huge overhaul of the country’s planning system, which we are studying carefully. It’s vital that the government gets it right”. Boff said he is encouraged by the White Paper’s stress on encouraging “beautiful design, self-builders and smaller developers”, as well as continuing to “protect the Green Belt and back gardens”.
However, Boff too warned that “automating planning decisions raises concerns over local democracy. Currently, people tend to engage with the planning system when they are concerned with individual applications. In this new system, local plans will be more critical than ever, so we must ensure they are democratic, with people properly consulted and engaged.”
Sarah Bevan, planning expert with business group London First, described the proposals as “radical” and said the move towards a “zoning approach, designating land for growth, renewal or protection has the potential to cut red tape, helping to boost housebuilding and renew our commercial districts”. She added, though, that previous attempts to simplify the planning system have not achieved their goals.
And there’s been a circumspect response from think tank Centre for London, whose deputy director Richard Brown describes the government’s proposals as “radical and far-reaching” and creating potential for “more meaningful community engagement, higher design standards, a less costly and risky planning system and more clarity for smaller builders and developers”. But he warns that implementing the changes “will be complex” and that “other incentives” will be needed to accelerate house-building in the ways Jenrick hopes.
Brown points out, significantly, that London already has a “pipeline of 280,000 homes that have planning permission but have not been built”. And he adds – perhaps ominously for the Sadiq Khan – that the White Paper is “silent on the role of the Mayor and the London Plan” and, for that matter, those of England’s other big city and combined authority Mayors.
This article will be updated as more reactions emerge. Photograph: CGI of planned new building in Purley.
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