City Hall’s London Plan is now again waiting for government approval – more than seven months after Sadiq Khan submitted what was intended to be the definitive version of the planning and development blueprint for the capital, the London Assembly heard today.
The draft Plan fell at its final hurdle in early March, when communities secretary Robert Jenrick refused to sign it off and effectively sent Khan back to the drawing board. The minister’s strongly-worded response, issued days before the mayoral election was postponed to 2021, accused Khan of failing to make the “tough choices necessary” to build the new homes London needs.
Jenrick directed Khan to make 11 specific amendments to the 600-page document, with the Mayor’s response signalling a dialling-down of what had been seen as pre-election rhetoric. “I am mindful of the need to support the development industry and the wider economy in the recovery from the coronavirus crisis,” he wrote in April. “Certainty for the industry…is crucial to this, so we must work together constructively to publish the London Plan as quickly as possible.”
Following discussion with Whitehall officials City Hall had now come back with suggested changes to five of the proposed amendments – fewer than 20 changes of wording in all to be agreed, Khan’s deputy mayor for planning Jules Pipe told the London Assembly’s regeneration committee. “It’s still an ongoing process. We have made our submissions. We are now waiting for the secretary of state to agree the changes or not,” he said. “We are still to hear back.”
The minister’s demands included a beefing up of support for family-size homes, scrapping a policy of “no let loss” of designated industrial land in the capital, relaxing parking space restrictions in Outer London and dropping a blanket requirement that proposals to develop Metropolitan Open Land should be refused.
While Pipe did not spell out exactly what the remaining areas of disagreement with Jenrick were, he hinted at continuing concern over industrial land and open space policies. “The dilution of Metropolitan Open Land is truly unwelcome,” he said. “I don’t see why Londoners’ green spaces should have less protection that Outer London’s Green Belt.”
The industrial land policy, criticised for deterring house-building on brownfield sites, was “never about preserving industrial land in aspic,” he added. London’s economy would “continue to be reliant on its workplaces as well as its housing,” added senior City Hall planner Lisa Fairmaner. “Publishing the Plan would enable us to monitor this.”
The Plan overall remained a flexible enough framework to accommodate new thinking on development in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Pipe said. “The ‘Good Growth’ principles that underlie the plan do address the priorities communities are now raising – open space, good design, priority for walking and cycling.”
And while the plan did promote “decent-sized” homes, the “jury was still out” on the need to specify home office space in new housing, he added. “It’s too early to tell whether there should be a wholesale new approach. I don’t think the office is dead yet.”
New population data due shortly also suggest the numbers of new households being formed in London has previously been over-estimated along with related forecast for increased demand for new housing, Pipe said. Household formation totals could possibly be down to 24,000 a year rather than the 48,000 forecast in the draft Plan, meaning the revised target of 53,000 homes a year set by Khan was high enough to meet new and pent-up need.
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