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.


 

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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