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A further Analysis of the Draft New London Plan Inspectors’ Report
18 November 2019
I recently set out my initial thoughts on the Inspectors’ report of the examination of the Draft New London Plan. You may have had the pleasure of reading all 125 pages of the report yourself, but if not, I’ve done it for you! Now that the dust has settled, I’ve taken a more detailed look at the report and what it means for planning and development in London.
The headlines and the next Plan review
You will no doubt have seen the headlines about reduced housing targets, increased demand for industrial land, and the need for a Green Belt review. In terms of housing, the Inspectors were unconvinced by the small sites strategy – i.e. the Plan’s assumption that it would deliver 38% of new homes on sites with a capacity of 25 units or less. They conclude that this is not realistically achievable and recommend reducing the small sites target by over 50% and, consequently, the overall housing target by almost 20%. This results in a new annual target of 52,285 net new homes.
This highlights the difficult choices we face as a city. In assessing the Plan against the tests of soundness, the Inspectors have had no choice but to reduce the housing targets as the small sites policy, and the evidence underpinning it, was not effective or justified, and therefore undeliverable. However, having concluded that the Plan has maximised all sources of brownfield capacity, it means that we move ever further away from building the amount of homes we actually need, and the backlog simply keeps growing.
The most striking thing about the Inspectors’ report is that it has already shifted the debate away from the current draft and onto the next review. This is particularly interesting given that the next review is likely to be far from “immediate”, despite the Inspector who examined the Further Alterations to the London Plan in 2014 calling for an immediate review. And similarly, the former Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, requesting one in July 2018. The Inspectors have declined to recommend an immediate review on the basis that it may deter some boroughs from updating their local plans until the review is progressed and it may encourage developers to land bank.
The explicit recommendation for a strategic review of the Green Belt – an issue we have long campaigned on – as part of the next London Plan review is clearly significant and is intrinsically linked to the panel’s position on the Duty to Cooperate. The report concludes that the Duty to Cooperate did not apply to the preparation of this Draft New London Plan based on the Planning Practice Guidance that was extant at the time the Plan was prepared. However, the report notes that the National Planning Policy Framework 2019 (NPPF) does explicitly apply the Duty to Cooperate to a spatial development strategy and therefore will apply to future reviews.
The current shortfall (approx. 20%) between forecast housing need in London and the revised housing target, increases pressure on the wider South East to help meet London’s housing need and is the source of much contention with neighbouring authorities. The report notes that an effective Green Belt review should involve joint working and positive engagement with authorities around London’s boundary as well as the boroughs.
Also of note, we welcome the Inspectors’ recommendation that the Mayor should consider setting out a more concise spatial development strategy, focussed on strategic outcomes rather than detailed means of implementation, when the Plan is next replaced.
A smooth adoption or a bumpy road ahead?
Given the fluid nature of national politics it is hard to predict whether whoever is Secretary of State at the end of the year will intervene in the adoption of this Plan and when adoption might take place. The December general election, coupled with the timing of the Mayoral election in May, all suggest that the only prediction that can be made with any certainty is that uncertainty lies ahead and consequently further delays are likely.
Key wins in the Inspectors’ report
Turning back to the current draft Plan, it was pleasing to see several recommendations made in the report that London First campaigned on, including:
The Good Growth policies in Chapter 1 should be presented as strategic objectives rather than policies which a development management decision is assessed against.
A more pragmatic approach to viability and site-specific viability assessments is recommended, acknowledging that a plan-led approach to viability will only be effective in London where there is an up to date local plan in place supported by far more detailed viability evidence than the London Plan Viability Study.
The small sites strategy presented was not robust and not deliverable, thus the targets for small sites should be reduced.
The need for industrial land (B8 uses specifically) has been significantly underestimated, partly due to market evidence presented and because the 65% plot ratio assumption is unrealistic for most types of development. Many hundreds of hectares are likely to be needed, including land in and around the CAZ. Paragraph 6.4.6 of the Plan should be amended to refer to boroughs considering whether the Green Belt needs to be reviewed through their local plans in order to provide additional capacity in sustainable locations.
Acknowledgement that the co-location of industrial and residential (E7B) has limited potential to contribute to housing targets due to practicalities and viability.
Green Belt policy (G2) must be amended to ensure consistency with national policy and the Inspectors reached the “inescapable” conclusion that this Plan must include a commitment to a Green Belt review. Capacity within London is clearly insufficient to close the gap between housing need and supply and to meet the shortfall of industrial land in the medium to longer term. The review should examine all land within the Green Belt to ascertain whether, and to what extent, it meets the Green Belt purposes defined in the NPPF and take into account any potential to promote sustainable patterns of development in line with the 2019NPPF.
On Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) specifying in G3 that proposals causing harm to MOL should be refused is inconsistent with the NPPF and should be removed. When changing MOL boundaries in exceptional circumstances, there is no justification to include the provisions requiring the quantum of MOL is not reduced and the overall value of the land is improved. These provisions should be omitted.
In terms of business space, there was agreement that E2 (low cost business space) and E3 (affordable workspace), as originally drafted, were not sound in a several respects. The report endorses the Mayor’s Further Suggested Changes (FSCs), which followed the debate at the hearing session and helped rectify the deficiencies. E2 has been re-positioned to deal with the provision of a range of business space in terms of type, use and size rather than purely focus on low cost business space. E3 has been improved so that it will only apply to areas and locations identified in local plans, backed up by evidence, or where there is currently affordable workspace on site. The report recommends that E3F be deleted – this required affordable workspace in mixed-use schemes to be operational prior to any residential being occupied.
The report acknowledges that the design policies are long, complex, detailed and repetitious in places.
There is unequivocal support for removal of the density matrix and its replacement with a design-led approach to residential density.
The use of an architect retention clause would be overly onerous and this should be deleted from the supporting text to D2.
The panel supports the FSCs to delete the onerous requirement to submit a management plan for residential development above certain thresholds at application stage.
Support the FSCs to SD4 that encourage the adaptation and diversification of the international shopping and leisure destinations of the West End.
For student accommodation,H17 should be more flexible to encourage nomination agreements with universities rather than require them.
On urban greening, the report concludes that the Urban Greening Factors for residential and office development appear to currently strike the right balance, but for industrial and warehouse development they would be difficult to achieve and would be liable to inhibit development. Until further evidence has been produced, B2 and B8 development should be excluded from the policy.
In respect of air quality, the report concludes that the Air Quality Positive approach is not sound, as it was not adequately defined, and so this should not be a specific policy requirement.
With the general election on the horizon, our London Plan debrief with Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills and Jennifer Peters, the GLA’s Lead Officer on the London Plan has been postponed until Tuesday 14 January at 10am.
We do hope that you will be able to join us to hear first-hand how the Mayor is planning to respond to the Inspectors’ report and intending to take the Plan forward to adoption.
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