Planning inspectors scrutinising Sadiq Khan’s draft London Plan have rejected his call for 66,000 new homes a year, describing City Hall’s targets for development on small sites in particular as requiring a “massive” uplift in delivery, which is “highly unlikely to occur based on the available evidence”.
A full London-wide review of the Green Belt should also be undertaken, the inspectors say, recommending too that the Mayor drops policies imposing a blanket ban on fracking in London and opposing Heathrow’s third runway expansion plans.
The inspectors’ report, compiled after some 12 weeks of public hearings between January and June this year, recommends that Khan revises his 10-year housebuilding completions target down from 649,350 new homes to 522,850, with the small sites 10 year target reduced from 245,7300 new homes a year to 119,250.
The small site policy was appropriately aspirational and “intended to reshape attitudes”, but going “too fast too soon”, the inspectors say. It would entail an increase in housebuilding of more than 250 per cent in Outer London – a 700 per cent uplift in Bexley alone – with the 24,573 average annual target comparing to an average of 15,300 small site completions per year between 2003 and 2017. Accepting the targets would be “setting the Plan up to fail”.
Revised figures recommended by the inspectors use a 0.3 per cent annual estimate of housing growth on small sites rather than the City Hall one per cent figure, which they say “appears to have been adopted randomly”. Their new figures would see Bexley’s small site ten year target cut from 8,650 to 3,050, Croydon’s from 15,110 to 6,410, Enfield’s to 4,240 from 10,740 and Hillingdon’s to 2,950 from 7,650 (see appendix B).
The inspectors stop short of calling for the Plan process to be paused so that the new homes targets could be reassessed and they refuse to endorse government calls for an immediate review, set out last year in a letter to Khan from then communities secretary James Brokenshire. Delays would mean uncertainty for boroughs preparing their own local plans and “struggling to meet unachievable expectations”, divert City Hall planners away from implementing the rest of the Plan, and encourage developers to delay plans for existing sites, they say.
And with “finite” capacity in London for new development and the draft Plan already relying substantially on “recycled” land, there would be limited benefit in an immediate review of targets without a Green Belt review or “further exploration” of the potential for growth in the wider South East, the inspectors conclude. With reviews likely to take up to three years and Khan anticipating a revised London Plan in place by 2024/2025 in any event, “in our view it is better to proceed on the basis of the adopted plan rather than one that is in limbo.”
Khan’s veto on Green Belt development was out of line with national policy allowing de-designation in exceptional circumstances, the inspectors say, recommending a review of a designation currently covering 22 per cent of the capital’s land to inform the 2024/2025 Plan. “It is implausible to insist that the Green Belt is entirely sacrosanct without having considered what it comprises.”
Banning fracking was also contrary to the national approach policy of allowing “safe and sustainable” shale gas exploitation, and also unnecessary as “it is highly unlikely that there is any suitable geology in London for fracking”. And the draft Plan’s outright opposition to expanding Heathrow airport was “fundamentally” at odds with Government support for a new third runway.
In an early response to the report, Khan’s deputy mayor for planning Jules Pipe highlighted tensions between government policy and the Mayor’s environmental commitments to “going further to protect Londoners and fight climate change”.
City Hall confirmed this week that Mayor Khan would finalise his “Intend to Publish” version of the Plan by the end of this year. That version must be submitted to Whitehall alongside a response to the inspectors’ recommendations, setting out City Hall’s reasons where recommendations are not accepted – with the secretary of state having the final say.
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