Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has written a letter to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan directing a number of significant changes to the London Plan before it can be adopted.
The letter dated 13 March 2020 can be found here and is worth a read in full to appreciate the extent of Mr Jenrick’s criticism of the Plan and Mr Khans ‘deeply disappointing’ housing delivery record. No reading between the lines is needed to understand the clear message:
‘…Following the Planning Inspectorate’s investigation of your Plan, they only deem your Plan credible to deliver 52,000 homes a year. This is significantly below your own identified need of around 66,000 homes and well below what most commentators think is the real need of London. As I have set out, the shortfall between housing need in London and the homes your Plan delivers has significant consequences for Londoners…
…Your Plan added layers of complexity that will make development more difficult unnecessarily; with policies on things as small as bed linen. Prescription to this degree makes the planning process more cumbersome and difficult to navigate; in turn meaning less developments come forward and those that do progress slowly…
…I had expected you to set the framework for a step change in housing delivery, paving the way for further increases given the next London Plan will need to assess housing need by using the Local Housing Need methodology. This has not materialised, as you have not taken the tough choices necessary to bring enough land into the system to build the homes needed.
…Having considered your Plan at length my conclusion is that the necessary decisions to bring more land into the planning system have not been taken, the added complexity will reduce appetite for development further and slow down the system, and throughout the Plan you have directly contradicted national policy. As you know, by law you must have regard to the need for your strategies to be consistent with national policies.
For these reasons I am left with no choice but to exercise my powers to direct changes’.
‘Due to the number of the inconsistencies with national policy and missed opportunities to increase housing delivery’, Mr Jenrick goes onto set out 11 directions which must be incorporated into the plan before it can be published.
So, what are the key changes and how significant are they for development in London?
The Mayor’s strong line on the protection of London’s industrial land drew criticism at the Examination in Public. The letter notes that ‘The Inspectors considered your industrial land policies to be unrealistic; taking an over-restrictive stance to hinder Boroughs’ abilities to choose more optimal uses for industrial sites where housing is in high demand’.
The letter goes onto state that ‘I am directing you to take a more proportionate stance – removing the ‘no net loss’ requirement on existing industrial land sites whilst ensuring Boroughs bring new industrial land into the supply’. Specifically, the changes involve:
· all reference to ‘no net loss’ of industrial floorspace for designated Strategic SIL/LSIS is removed.
· The proposed introduction of a 65% plot ratio (i.e. ratio of floorspace to land) as a benchmark against which the principle of ‘no net loss’ would be measured is removed.
· the borough level categorisations set out in Figure 6.1 (i.e. provide, retain or release) are removed.
· there is added support for SIL release and SIL substitution where evidence suggests this is appropriate.
The implications of this more open policy approach are two pronged. Clearly, the intension of omitting the ‘no net loss’ principle is to remove what would be a significant policy hurdle to SIL release to allow the transfer of some employment land to other uses i.e. housing. Whilst the directed changes may not necessarily open the floodgates for SIL release, it certainly introduces more flexibility which some pro-development Council’s may embrace. On the flipside, a SIL designation will now arguably offer less protection and certainty for existing employment sites.
The Mayor’s blanket ban on green belt development is revised to bring the policy into line with national policy by including scope for exceptions where it is demonstrated that there are ‘very special circumstances’ and ‘exceptional circumstances’. Whilst these are difficult policy tests to overcome, their inclusion does add some scope for negotiation. Notably, there is no requirement for the Mayor to undertake a Green Belt review prior to adoption as recommended by the Panel – although this is likely to be incorporated into the ‘immediate’ review of the London Plan which Mr Jenrick requests in his letter.
Mr Jenrick is critical of the Plan’s tilt towards one-bed flats ‘at the expense of all else’ which is deemed to be ‘driving people out of our capital when they want to have a family’. To address this imbalance, reference is added encouraging the provision of family-sized units. This re-wording may have implications for the housing mix of future schemes, which in turn will impact on viability.
Support for affordable housing provision on sites delivering less than 10 units is removed as it is considered to undermined national approach and is inconsistent with the written ministerial statement made on 28 November 2014.
The directed changes shift the policy stance on optimising density somewhat with support for higher density developments in areas that are well connected and through the expansion of existing clusters, whilst also introducing the idea of ‘gentle densification’ in low and mid density locations. This more prescriptive policy is intended to give clearer guidance on the most suitable locations for higher density development and avoid inappropriate development.
In signing off the letter, Mr Jenrick says:
‘The position I have taken and requirements I have outlined, are focused on ensuring the homes that Londoners need are planned for and delivered. Housing in our capital is simply too important for the underachievement and drift displayed under you Mayoralty, and now in your Plan, to continue’.
We wait with interest for Mr Khan’s response. In the meantime, the letter and directed changes will need to be taken into account as a material consideration in the determination of planning applications where relevant.
Should you have any queries about any of the above, please feel free to contact one of the Firstplan team.