Small sites, green belt and growth corridors: Six things you need to know from the draft London Plan

Mayor Sadiq Khan in Tooting, outer London: the sort of place he expects to provide more homes. Image: Getty.

The draft London Plan highlights many of the themes that will shape London’s growth until at least 2041 – or at least, until the document’s next iteration. Launched a month before the beginning of the festive break, the plan aims to address many of the issues currently affecting London and is centred on the concept of ‘Good Growth’ – an idea which broadly translates as “sustainable growth that works for everyone”.

The strategic document, out for consultation until early March, is not short of ambitious policies, and getting your head around the various interrelationships is not always an easy task. With this in mind, here is our take on some of the most interesting parts of the document.

1. The numbers

Planners love to talk numbers, and the draft London Plan has plenty to offer. The annual housing target has been set to 65,000 homes (the need being just slightly higher, at 66,000 homes p.a.), while projections see London reaching a population of 10.8m and 6.9m jobs by 2041.

Housing growth will be delivered largely in Outer London (55 per cent). The mayor also aims to achieve his zero-carbon target by 2050, and 80 per cent of all trips being by foot, cycle or public transport by 2041. The ‘most interesting figure award’ goes to the 5.1 per cent of overall taxes currently raised and retained in London.

2. Affordable housing: are there new targets?

Affordable housing is one of the top concerns for Londoners. The draft London Plan confirms and expands the ‘Fast Track Route’ approach, whereby planning applications for development that hits a certain proportion of affordable housing  (35 per cent in most cases; see figure below) will not have to submit viability assessments.

The ‘marathon’ to fix London’s housing crisis still incorporates the intention to reach the strategic 50 per cent affordable housing target, while the different threshold levels will not be reviewed until at least 2021. 

Figure 1: Affordable housing threshold (‘Fast Track Route’). Click to expand. Source: GLA, Lichfields analysis.

3. Where are we going to build, live and work?

Land availability is often identified as one of the main drivers of the current housing crisis in the capital, and the draft London Plan identifies seven ‘growth corridors’ where new development can be accommodated. These corridors are areas where housing (and employment) growth could be delivered by aligning it with specific infrastructure expansion, such as the Elizabeth Line, Crossrail 2, and the Bakerloo Line extension.

Growth corridors are also the starting point for wider regional collaboration with the South East in order to overcome ‘shared strategic concerns’, such as (surprise, surprise) barriers to housing and infrastructure delivery.

Figure 2: Number of homes and jobs in growth corridors. Click to expand. Source: GLA, Lichfields analysis.

4. Let’s tighten the Green Belt

Unsurprisingly, Green Belt protection status has been confirmed, as London’s growth will be accommodated without “intruding on its Green Belt”. Metropolitan Open Land remains protected, too.

London’s land designated as Green Belt makes 22 per cent of the total area. The mayor highlights in the draft London Plan how its de-designation will not be supported in any circumstance.

Figure 3 (clockwise, from top left): Land classification around London; local plan progress outside London; commuting to London; and housing completions as a proportion of housing need (according to new Objectively Assessed Need methodology). Click to expand. Source: GLA, Lichfields analysis, Planning Inspectorate, 2011 Census and ONS data.

5. Small sites – the rabbit in the hat

Higher targets, no Green Belt release for development and increased densities all point to the need to find new ways for delivering housing growth.

The development of small sites – that is, those capable of delivering up to 25 homes – have been identified as the most suitable solution and have a “presumption in favour”. The draft Plan expects 38 per cent of the overall annual housing target (24,573 out of 65,000 homes) to be delivered on small sites in the next ten years, with a considerable role for Outer London boroughs, where 68 per cent of the total number of small site homes should be located.

Figure 4: 10-year housing targets on small sites. Click to expand. Source: GLA, Lichfields analysis.

6. It’s not just about housing

Housing is not the only use for which we desperately need to identify land in London – the pressures to provide sufficient industrial land and office floorspace are significant, too.

As such, the draft London Plan suggests a combination of consolidation, intensification and co-location of industrial uses (on top of protectionist policies, and substitution); and London Borough removal of office and light industrial changes of use to residential permitted development rights, in order to preserve and expand (where possible) the overall supply of employment land.

Figure 5: Industrial floorspace capacity. Click to expand. Source: GLA, Lichfields analysis.

Figure 6. Annual office-based employment growth, comparison between current London Plan and draft London Plan. Click to expand. Source: GLA, Lichfields analysis.

What to look for next?

Obviously, the 525-page document includes significantly more detail than can be covered here, and the combined impacts of many of the draft Plan’s policies will be worth careful consideration in the months to come.

The challenges that the draft London Plan will have to tackle are numerous, and broader than those that only relate to planning policies. Here are just three issues to start with:

  • The political dimension of the document, combined with borough (May 2018) and mayoral (May 2020) elections;
  • The significant contribution required of Outer London boroughs towards delivering growth;
  • And the mayor’s ability to negotiate with central government to achieve additional investment and further devolution of powers.

The draft London Plan is certainly an ambitious document, as the scale of the capital’s issues clearly required it to be. Having now set the scene, the coming months and years will tell us how the Mayor’s housing ‘marathon’ is going – and whether the options he has chosen will see him victorious.  

Giorgio Wetzl is a researcher at planning consultancy Lichfields. To gain a fuller picture of the policies and potential implications of the draft London Plan, you can also read our Research Insight.


 

 
 
 
 

With its social housing green paper, the government has missed an opportunity to tackle the housing crisis – again

Trellick Tower, a GLC-built property in Kensal Town, west London. Image: Getty.

A Labour London councillor on today’s green paper.

London faces a housing crisis: it’s one of the most obvious statements a politician can make in 2018.

Too many Londoners can’t afford to buy their own homes. Private renters have little security and face extortionate rents and fees. Council housing waiting lists remain stubbornly high.

None of that is new news. And yet, the government has once again shown that it completely misses the point when it comes to the housing crisis.

Today’s much anticipated, and delayed, Social Housing Green Paper should have been a chance for the new communities secretary James Brokenshire to make a break from past missed opportunities. Unlike his rather flash predecessor, current home secretary Sajid Javid, Brokenshire has talked honestly and with apparent understanding about the housing crisis and the need for real action.

It is therefore all the more disappointing that the Green Paper is a complete damp-squib when it comes to new policy that will make any difference to tackling the housing crisis.

It’s welcome news that the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of the government’s 2016 plans to force councils to sell-off ‘high value’ council homes – something I and many others have campaigned against since it was first announced and which, according to housing charity Shelter, would have seen as many as 23,000 council homes sold-off in a year.


But it’s hard to celebrate, when there’s not a single penny of new funding for local councils to build new council homes.

There was no announcement that Right to Buy will be fixed, so that homes lost are replaced like for like in the same area.

Worst of all, the government failed to announce its support for the single simplest policy it could adopt, which would help councils build thousands of new homes and would cost the government absolutely nothing – lifting the red-tape that stops councils from borrowing to build.

The artificial cap on councils’ ability to borrow to build new council homes is maddening. The ‘New Homes Blocker’ is stopping councils across London from building new council homes.

The reason the government won’t change its position is because the UK is one of the only countries in Europe that counts such borrowing as part of national debt. A simple change in accounting policy would allow councils to borrow prudently, and at record-low costs, to finance the building of thousands of new council homes, repaying the borrowing through the rents on the new homes.

Councils like Islington are building more council homes now than we have for the last 30 years. But without either significant government investment or the lifting of the borrowing cap for councils, our ambitions to fight the housing crisis face yet more hurdles to overcome.  

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.