Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan has set out ambitious housing reforms. But can he deliver?

A rather fetching image from the cover of the London Plan. Image: Greater London Authority.

The draft London Plan released by Sadiq Khan this week expresses his determination to meet London’s housing need in full, without infringing on the Green Belt. The commitment may seem obvious, but it is nonetheless ambitious – and it brings a rebalancing of the geography of development towards outer London, a shift away from Boris Johnson’s strategy.

The new plan is now out to public consultation this week. Since 2000, the London Plan has been the mayor of London’s principal instrument to shape the city’s change, allowing them to influence both the location and the kind of development that will take place. The mayor estimates that the capital will need an additional 660,000 homes this decade – an assessment consistent with that commissioned by City Hall in 2014, which projected a ten-year need of “at least” 620,000 homes.

However, there is a marked difference in the scale of ambition of the two most recent versions of this document. In his last plan, Boris Johnson found space for 420,000 homes, 200,000 short of his estimated housing need, and chose to monitor the boroughs against this target. This week’s draft Plan identified capacity – and set targets – for 650,000 homes in London over the next decade.

Click to expand.

Sceptics argue that this target, like its predecessors, will not be met – the new target is, after all, more than twice the number of homes completed the last ten years. Yet it is remarkable to see where this additional capacity was identified: in outer London, thanks to policies that the mayor believes will enable boroughs to achieve their targets.

The plan allows denser development in places with transport capacity – and argues that many of those are in outer London. Indeed, Crossrail and Thameslink are about to unlock significant development potential in outer boroughs, which the mayor hopes to realise by allowing higher densities near stations and encouraging building on small sites. Scrapping maximum densities may stir opposition, but these were not respected anyway, and the mayor plans to offset taller buildings with new guidelines promoting design quality and affordable housing provision.

If the plan becomes reality, many outer London boroughs are set for a pace of housebuilding that they have not experienced in their 50-year history. The new plan requires them to accommodate 58 per cent London’s new build (against 41 per cent in the current plan).

Most outer boroughs will see their housing targets double, and some nearly triple. On the other hand, most central London boroughs can expect their targets to decrease, perhaps because a lot of capacity has already been delivered. A third group of boroughs, in east London, will continue to make a very large contribution to the city’s growth.

Rebalancing development towards more suburban areas may not have been the mayor’s first choice, but his commitment not to build outwards probably constrained his options. He will also have to allow building upwards in the city’s opportunity areas to accommodate growth, whether those sit in inner or outer London.

The London Plan will take time to digest. It is a long document, and is only entering its consultation phase; it will then be examined at public hearings by a planning inspector next autumn, with the final draft published in 2019. In the upcoming local election campaigns, these housing targets may be hot topics for debate.

But whether the mayor can temper London’s spiralling cost of living by expanding housing supply will depend on developers’ and landowners’ appetite to pursue those opportunities opened up in outer London.

Nicolas Bosetti is a senior researcher at the Centre for London. He tweets as @nicolasbosetti.

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CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

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CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

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As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

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I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.