Secretary of State intervenes on adoption of the new London Plan
18 March 2020
The Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, has written to the Mayor to direct changes to the draft new London Plan before it can be adopted.
Following the examination of the Plan, 15 of the Inspectors’ recommendations were rejected by the Mayor in his ‘Intention to Publish’ version, including a commitment to a Green Belt review and acknowledgement of a third runway at Heathrow. The Secretary of State is entitled to intervene on two points: inconsistency with national planning policies; and detrimental impact on neighbouring authorities.
Key points in the letter
Jenrick has directed that the Plan cannot be adopted unless eleven changes are made. But the letter goes much further than that. It criticises the Mayor’s track record on housing delivery and the impact on affordability in London. Given the Mayor agreed to reduce the Plan’s annual housing target from 65k to 52k without identifying new sources of housing land supply — and with London needing 66k more homes per year — we were expecting some action, but this has been an unprecedented strength and range of response.
Specific criticism includes stalled strategic sites; “onerous conditions” applied to estate regeneration schemes; and the rejection of “£1 billion of investment…to deliver Affordable Homes” because of the conditions attached. Jenrick’s starting point is that there should be an immediate review of the Plan.
One of our primary concerns about the Plan has always been the level of detail and prescription which risks hindering delivery, and we made the point throughout the consultation and examination process. This was a strong message in Jenrick’s letter.
We supported the policy approach to maximise delivery from smallsites (up to 25 new homes), but we were unconvinced that they could deliver the level of development anticipated by the Plan – 38% of all new homes. The Inspectors, and now Jenrick, share our view.
Having regard to the two points above on which the Secretary of State can intervene, the following directed changes are of greatest interest:
amend Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land policies to make them consistent with the NPPF and refer to ‘exceptional circumstances’;
significant changes to the industrial land policies to provide a more flexible policy approach, including removal of the ‘no net loss’ requirement on existing industrial sites and ensuring boroughs bring new industrial land into the supply;
some additional policy wording on optimising density to bring it in line with the approach set out in the NPPF, notably to direct high density developments to the most appropriate sites;
deletion of the two paragraphs that encourage boroughs to seek cash in lieu affordable housing contributions from developments of nine or fewer units to ensure consistency with national policy;
housing policies should place a greater emphasis on family sized homes;
raising residential maximum car parking standards in outer London, and a more flexible approach to retail car parking standards to support town centres; and
the boroughs should not be discouraged from exceeding their allocated housing targets or bringing forward their own higher targets.
The full detailed schedule of directed changes can be accessed here. Significantly, it is unlikely that the changes will have any major impact for the majority of planning applications in London.
The letter also sets out a broader list of actions the Mayor “must” do including working with the Ministry to kick-start stalled sites, collaborate with public agencies to find new sources of housing supply, and produce and deliver a “new strategy with authorities in the wider South East to offset unmet housing need in a joined-up way”. The latter is easier said than done.
What does this all mean?
Given the scope of Jenrick’s letter to the Mayor, it is clear the Government’s actions go beyond the Plan itself and even planning policy. Arguably, the Plan has become a proxy for a broader disagreement between the Mayor and Government about housing supply in London and any disagreement between the two sides could impact on Government investment in London.
However large London’s new affordable housing settlement is, it will likely come with more conditions attached. It is clear from Jenrick’s letter that the Government wants to introduce a new monitoring regime and there are also veiled references to Government taking more control over housing supply in London, potentially through an enhanced role for Homes England.
The Mayor will need to submit an updated ‘Intention to Publish’ version to the Secretary of State. If he incorporates all the directed changes, the remainder of the process should be relatively straightforward, and a Plan could be adopted within a matter of weeks. But, if the Mayor decides to set out alternatives or rebuttals to the directed changes, things could go back and forth between both parties for some time until an agreed position is reached.
While the public health situation has now overtaken events, in the short term a lack of clarity about the Plan’s status will only play into the current broader economic uncertainty.
The Government and the Mayor need to work constructively. London needs more homes, and the only ways this will be achieved is if politics are put to one side and there is a renewed focus on creating a planning and delivery framework that can increase housing supply in London.
We will continue to monitor the situation and engage with both the GLA and Government to make the case for a sensible compromise to be reached.
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