House-hunters shouldn’t expect to be looking for a home on Oxford Street any time soon, Sadiq Khan has told London Assembly members.
Speaking yesterday at his first Mayor’s Question Time session since his convincing election victory earlier this month, the Mayor expressed concern about new “permitted development” proposals allowing shops to be converted to housing without requiring planning permission, as well as wider possible changes in response to the coronavirus emergency.
“We’ve got to be careful we don’t make permanent physical changes based on a temporary pandemic,” he said. “There is a place for residential in the centre of London but I’m not in favour of some of the buildings on Oxford Street, for example, being converted from retail to housing.”
Permitted development rules could be used as “a way of getting round the safeguards on design quality, type of housing, community gain and so forth”, the Mayor warned, while the government’s new Planning Bill proposals to effectively greenlight new housing in areas designated for development could amount to what some were already calling a “developers’ charter”.
“I’m not saying all developers are bad, or that all developments are bad,” Khan said. But if you take out the local input it could lead to developments that are not good for the local community and don’t respect local heritage.” He added: “We’ve got to be careful about developers or civil servants in Whitehall taking the decisions out of local politicians’ hands.”
Khan’s concerns came in the wake of warnings this week from the Centre for London think tank that successful high streets were reliant on a range of different uses, including community space, to sustain footfall, and that “inappropriate” residential development could “hasten the decline of the high street even further, affecting the viability of other commercial uses beyond retail.”
The Centre’s Community Town Centres report argues that powers to prevent “excessive commercial-to-residential conversion” in high streets and town centres is essential and calls for the extension of permitted development rights to be reconsidered.
The report was backed by newly-elected assembly member Sakina Sheikh, planning lead for the Assembly’s Labour group, who described the extension of permitted development rights as “riding roughshod over democracy”.
Underlining his confidence in economic recovery, Khan reminded the Assembly that his “first act” on starting his second term had been to launch the £6 million “Let’s Do London” campaign, billed as the capital’s largest ever domestic tourism drive, to “encourage visitors and Londoners back into the heart of our city”.
But answering questions on City Hall housing priorities, the Mayor also confirmed that the supply of new housing in the capital is lagging behind demand, with government funding also well short of the estimated £4.9 billion a year required over the current decade to provide enough affordable homes. Current funding for London amounts to £4 billion in total to 2026.
Watch the 27 May 2021 Mayor’s Question Time in full here.
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