Draft London Plan – Role of Small Scale Housing Developers Recognised

Policy Update
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The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launched his new draft London Plan earlier this week with the aim of ‘tackling the housing-crisis head on’ and welcoming growth in this capital.

The Mayor has used his first draft London Plan to ‘get London building the affordable homes it needs by ripping up existing planning rules and calling on homebuilders to develop sites at higher housing densities to substantially increase capacity in the capital’.

The new Plan sets out the strategic development strategic for London and is certainly ambitious, with the Mayor setting a new London-wide target of 650,000 new homes by 2029 – more than double the current delivery rate.

The draft Plan reaffirms the Mayor’s commitment to the protection of London’s Green Belt and provides greater protection for industrial land.  So where will all these new houses go?

First, the Mayor is seeking to increase the density of new development. The existing density guidelines, which set density limits for residential development based on a site’s accessibility and it’s setting, are now removed (i.e. the rule ‘ripping up’ Mr Khan refers to).  Instead, the Plan advocates a design-led approach to optimising housing density.  Proposed residential development that does not demonstrably optimise the housing density of the site should be refused.

Second, there is a focus on increasing housing supply in outer London ‘where the suburban pattern of development has significant potential for appropriate intensification over time’.  In addition, new growth corridors are identified alongside new infrastructure to accommodate higher density housing and employment development, namely, Crossrail 2, Thames Estuary, Bakerloo line extension, Central London, Elizabeth Line East, Heathrow, Elizabeth Line West, Trams Triangle/London-Gatwick-Brighton mainline and HS2.  The provision of more housing as part of the development of town centres is also identified as of key importance.

Third, and perhaps most interestingly, there is a particular emphasis on the role that small sites (below 0.25 hectares) can play in delivering housing.  To this end, for the first time, boroughs are set specific targets for net housing completions on small sites.   The new Small Sites policy relates to developments between 1 and 25 homes and is intended to be representative of small housing developments across London – a deliberate distinction from ‘major developments’.  Boroughs are required to apply a presumption in favour of the following types of small housing development:

1) infill development on vacant or underused sites

2) proposals to increase the density of existing residential homes within PTAL 3-6 or within 800m of a Tube station, rail station or town centre boundary through:

a) residential conversions

b) residential extensions

c) the demolition and redevelopment of existing buildings

d) infill development within the curtilage of a house

3) the redevelopment or upward extension of flats and non-residential buildings to provide additional housing.

This presumption in favour means approving small housing developments which are in accordance with a design code where one is in place. Where there is no such design code, the presumption means approving small housing development unless it can be demonstrated that the development would give rise to an unacceptable level of harm to residential privacy, designated heritage assets, biodiversity or a safeguarded land use that outweighs the benefits of additional housing provision.

Of particular note is the inclusion of development ‘within the curtilage of a house’ in the policy, which effectively allows new housing to be built in back gardens – something which boroughs are able to resist under the existing London Plan.

Key to the delivery of new housing, both on small sites and through larger scale developments, is the use of brownfield registers. Boroughs are required to proactively use brownfield registers and permission in principle to increase planning certainty for those wishing to build new homes.

The provision of affordable housing remains central to the Mayor’s plan to increase the overall housing supply, and the new plan includes a 50 per cent affordable housing target. As part of this, the Mayor is adopting a threshold approach to viability for developments over 10 units (or which have a combined floor space greater than 1,000sqm).  The idea was first introduced in the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG and incentivizes developers to offer affordable housing that meet or exceed a threshold of 35 per cent affordable housing without public subsidy by allowing the planning application to follow a Fast Track Route.   Schemes that do not meet this threshold, or require public subsidy to do so, will be required to follow the current, and often protracted route, of submitting a detailed viability information which will be scrutinised and treated transparently.

Whilst Mr Khan’s housing ambitions are certainly at the forefront of the draft London Plan, there are a number of other new policies introduced.  For example, the Plan reaffirms the Mayor’s commitment to refuse any potential fracking applications, offers stronger protection for pubs and supports plans for new public houses in suitable locations and encourages boroughs to refuse planning applications for new fast food takeaways near schools.

As we digest the draft Plan further, we will post additional articles on our website on specific topics of interest.  In the meantime, the new draft London Plan is subject to public consultation from 4 December 2017 until 2 March 2018.  If you have any queries regarding the draft Plan or would like us to prepare representations on your behalf, please feel free to contact one of the Firstplan team.