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.


 

 
 
 
 

A warped mirror: on gentrification and deprivation on London’s Caledonian Road

The London Overground crosses Caledonian Road. Image: Claude Lynch.

Capital cities are, more often than not, a focal point for the stark divide between rich and poor – places where the most economically deprived meet the most economically empowered. In London, these divides can be more than stark: they can be close, even intimate, and there are districts where crossing the street can be like entering a different world. One such street is the Caledonian Road.

Known local as “the Cally”, Caledonian Road runs for about a mile and a half, from Kings Cross to the Nags Head junction in Holloway, and was built in 1826 to provide a new arterial route to the north from the West End. At first, developments on the road were sparse; among the first notable buildings were the Royal Caledonian Asylum, which gave the road its name, and H.M. Prison Pentonville.

For some time, the northern half of the road was seen as far removed from central London, which stymied development. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century residential development really got going. By the time Caledonian Road station opened on the Piccadilly line in 1906, the area was flush with Victorian terraces.

These, though, mainly lay on the eastern side. To the west, the proximity of King’s Cross prompted the development of heavy industry, particularly the clay kilns that were helping to build Victorian London proper. The divide had begun:  the east side of the street, the area known as Barnsbury, was notably quieter and calmer than the west side. Ever since the 19th century, the ‘V’ formed by Caledonian Road and York Way has been known for a high incidence of gang violence and social problems.

As in many parts of London, the end of the Second World War brought a chance to start from scratch. Many of the slums to the west of the Cally had been bombed to smithereens, and those that remained still lacked gas and hot water.

But this was the era of municipal dreams: Islington council cleared the slums and constructed the Bemerton Estate. Instead of reflecting the industrial history of the area, the estate reflected Barnsbury back at itself, treating Caledonian Road as some sort of warped modernist mirror. The square gardens of Barnsbury were reimagined as the spaces between the highrises of Bemerton, and this time, they were actually square.

The estate was immediately popular, its open design prompting a renewed sense of community in the west. But it didn’t last.

Square gardens on one side, not-so-square on the other. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

As far back as the 1950s, Islington had already become synonymous with gentrification. Forty years later, before moving to Downing Street, Tony Blair’s London residence was Barnsbury’s leafy Richmond Crescent. House prices in the area have gone through the roof and now Barnsbury is mainly home to a the professional elite.


At the same time, though, Caledonian Road’s warped mirror has given Bemerton the exact opposite: in spite of attempts to rejuvenate it, downward spiral of deprivation and antisocial behaviour have blighted the estate for some time The promise of inviting square gardens and communal living has been inhibited by crime and poverty; the gardens lie empty, while those in Barnsbury thrive.

The disparity of wealth across Caledonian Road is regrettable. That’s not just because it speaks to a wider segregation of London’s rich and poor – a phenomenon exemplified last year by the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea, the richest borough in Britain. It’s also because, in the Bemerton Estate, planners had thought they saw an opportunity to offer more Londoners the idyll of square gardens and leafy streets, often reserved for the richest.

It might be too much to claim the estate as a failure; events such as the Cally Festival aim to bring together both sides of the road, while other council programmes such as Islington Reads help to foster a greater sense of neighbourhood.

Road should never divide us; rather, they should unite those who live on either side. The spirit of Caledonian Road should cross the gap – just like the railway bridge that bears its name.