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.


 

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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