Sadiq Khan unveiled the draft of his new London Plan yesterday, choosing the vast Barking Riverside development site as a setting. This was apt: the evolving 10,800 home settlement known affectionately among those assembling it as Barcelona-on-Thames is at the eastern frontier of London’s physical growth, as is the regenerating Thamesmead, its twin giant rising on the river’s opposite bank.
This is the gateway to the capital’s tomorrow, as its population booms towards 10 million and beyond. The draft Plan, over 500 pages of city planning regulations backed by some of the Mayor’s more formidable powers, lays out the form and character London’s political leader wants that rapid evolution to take.
Such a vast document – the Mayor’s Spatial Development Strategy, to give it its formal title – will take days to read and fully assess, but some have already made a start on picking out exciting bits. City Hall itself has highlighted eight features of the document, ranging from housing targets and cycling to public toilets and pubs. The Evening Standard has headlined the draft plan’s liberalisation of rules that work against higher density construction and building on small sites adjacent to existing buildings.
This could particularly affect Outer London boroughs, more likely to be Conservative-run, many of which have long been resistant to new housing. Cue Tory cries of “garden grabbing” and visions of the ruin of suburbia. However, Paul Wellman of Estates Gazette described Tory claims that Khan has “given the green light to gardens being concreted over in London” as “fake news” and architect Russell Curtis, who is also one of the Mayor’s design advocates, called them “utter tripe“. I don’t think I’d quarrel with those two.
Wellman notes, as others have, that Khan is still sticking firmly to the Green Belt status quo whilst proposing a (somewhat theoretical) “doubling of housing output”. He asks, logically enough: “Where will the homes go?” His answer: “High-rise towers will be coming to your neighbourhood very soon”.
Curtis applauds as a “major anti-Nimby move” the part of the Plan which allows for “incremental intensification” of residential areas within 800 metres of a Tube station, rail station or town centre boundary and which firmly asserts that “there is a need for the character of some neighbourhoods to evolve to accommodate additional housing”.
He also likes the part that helps encourage housing projects of 25 units or fewer, calling it “excellent news for small developers”, and one saying that s106 obligations – the part of planning permissions that require developers to supply “affordable” housing – will now apply to sites where just ten or fewer homes are built. This was not the case before, though the contribution will take the form of “cash in lieu” to meet the cost of affordable homes built elsewhere.
Meanwhile, campaigners London YIMBY – that’s Yes In My Back Yard for those who, like me, are feeling a bit slow today – have also been positive on Twitter, and I’ve received a really excellent guest piece from them about the Plan, which I will run tomorrow morning.
The London Plan isn’t only about housing and other kinds of building, of course. There are entire chapters on transport, heritage and culture, social infrastructure, green infrastructure, the economy and more.
The public consultation opens tomorrow, 1 December, and will run until 2 March 2018. You will be able to comment online from next Monday, 4 December, and the email address is LondonPlan@london.gov.uk. All those details and the draft Plan itself are here.