An influential Central London property sector group is concerned that the government’s proposed reforms to the planning system will fail to foster economic growth in London and other cities, neglect to take local needs and circumstances into account, and lessen the provision of homes at affordable prices.
In a statement, Olivia Harris, chair of the Westminster Property Association (WPA), which represents 260 Westminster property owners, developers, occupiers and advisers, has welcomed the “ambition to simplify the planning process” but observes that “the reforms seem to be focused on delivering homes in areas outside of major cities” and that “it is unclear how these proposals will sit with regional plans or promote growth in metropolitan areas”.
The statement adds: “Disappointingly, there appears to be no reference to the role of economic growth, which development in the City of Westminster – and other strategically important areas – underpins….in our submissions to government the WPA will insist that any changes to the planning process include controls to ensure that development follows the principles of Good Growth: it should drive economic growth and prosperity, respond to local needs and deliver meaningful community benefits.”
The WPA’s response to the plans, which were unveiled by communities secretary Robert Jenrick in a White Paper yesterday, follow similar misgivings expressed by other London organisations and politicians. about the future form of local accountability and housing standards and affordability.
Issues picked out in three key areas its members will be looking at more closely, the WPA include:
- The White Paper’s “interesting” proposal to designate local land uses as being for either growth, renewal or protection, saying it is “imperative that the views of business and need for jobs growth are also considered”.
- It asks “who will produce the design codes for the capital” and where this will leave Westminster Council’s draft local planning document and “regional planning and the London Plan”. (Sadiq Khan’s draft new London Plan was strongly attacked by Jenrick, whose approval it requires, in a letter sent during the build-up to the subsequently postponed 2020 mayoral election).
- The WPA also seeks more detail about the proposed replacement of existing mechanisms for agreeing developer financial contributions (Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy) to “meaningful benefits to the local area”, crucially in the form of housing for sale or rent below market rates tailored for residents on low or middle incomes.
- Measures relating specifically to housing which “could lead to a decline in the number of affordable homes in areas like Westminster”. It describes as “well-intentioned” Jenrick’s envisaged First Homes model, which would offer housing for sale at discounts, but notes that in very expensive areas like Westminster it would “not provide housing at affordable prices for key workers”.
The government proposals also say that new housing deemed in advance to be “beautiful” will be fast-tracked through the new system, but the WPA asks who the arbiter of what is “beautiful” will be. Harris says WPA members will “continue to digest” the details of the reforms is it prepares its response to the government’s consultation.
Photo from WPA website.
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