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The Draft New London Plan: The Inspectors’ Report of the Examination in Public
23 October 2019
The three Inspectors who conducted an independent Examination into the Draft New London Plan earlier this year have published their final report. Overall they have found the Plan to be sound.
But there are significant recommendations including lowering the overall housing target and a Mayor-led comprehensive review of London’s Green Belt. The Inspectors also encourage the Mayor to 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. This is something London First pushed for throughout the Examination process.
A summary of the recommendations in respect of our key issues, together with next steps, are set out below. We will continue to update Members with more detailed analysis over the coming days.
The principles of Good Growth
The Inspectors support the Mayor’s overall vision for the Good Growth concept. In Chapter one of the Plan the Mayor sets out six Good Growth principles. These were presented as policies, but in our representations we argued that they should be presented as Good Growth objectives because policies would incumber the legal framework for decision making. This gained traction with other representors during the hearing sessions and the Inspectors have ruled that the Mayor should adopt our recommended approach.
Housing land supply and housing targets
The Inspectors are not convinced by the overall housing land supply strategy. Whilst they support the analysis for large sites, they question the robustness of the small sites strategy (i.e. new homes delivered on sites with a capacity of 25 units or less) on the basis of arbitrary growth assumptions in the GLA’s capacity modelling and the scale of change that is envisaged. The draft Plan had anticipated 38% of new homes being delivered from this source and had set the boroughs incredibly high targets, particularly the Outer London boroughs, but the Inspectors have concluded that this is not realistically achievable and the policy goes too far too soon. In this regard, several boroughs had invested significant resources in commissioning research to demonstrate that the targets were undeliverable.
The Inspectors have recommended that the ten-year small sites target be reduced from 245,730 to 119, 250 and, consequently, that the overall housing target be reduced from 649,350 to 522,850 – i.e. a reduction of almost 20% and equating to a new annual target of 52,285 net new homes. The Government’s standard methodology for calculating housing need identifies a target of 72,000 and the previous Secretary of State for Housing wrote to the Mayor in July 2018 stating that the Mayor’s target should be more ambitious.
Reducing the target, without identifying a new source of land supply, is simply pushing the problem into the Wider South East and it risks increasing tensions with neighbouring authorities. Interestingly, in this regard, the Inspectors concluded that the Duty to Cooperate did not apply to the preparation of this Draft New London Plan. This conclusion was based on the Planning Practice Guidance that was extant at the time the Plan was prepared, but 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 the relationship with the Wider South East will become a much more prominent issue in future London Plan reviews.
London’s Green Belt
The Inspectors recommend, on the basis that all existing sources of housing land supply within London have been maximised, that the Mayor should lead a strategic and comprehensive review of the Green Belt in London as part of the next review of the Plan to establish if there is any potential for sustainable development. The Inspectors concluded in their report, “It is implausible to insist that the green belt is entirely sacrosanct without having considered what it comprises and the impact that it has on wider strategic objectives.” This is something that London First has campaigned on for many years and we demonstrated is supported by ordinary Londoners through our recent Citizen’s Jury.
In terms of the current Plan, Policies G2 (Green Belt) and G3 (Metropolitan Open Land) should be amended to bring them in line with national policy, as we and other participants argued at the relevant hearing session, to allow the redefining of boundaries in exceptional circumstances and provided the NPPF’s sequential test is followed.
In accordance with the representations made by London First and Gerald Eve, the report acknowledges the limitations of a strategic viability assessment and the Inspectors have not been persuaded that all forms of development would be viable if they are required to meet all of the policy requirements in the Plan. They note that the plan-led approach to viability will only be effective in London where there is an up to date local plan in place supported by appropriate viability evidence that goes into considerably more detail. It is recommended that changes are made to Policy DF1, and its supporting text, to reflect this position. This is certainly a more pragmatic approach that will help address Members’ concerns.
The Inspectors consider that the Plan should provide a more positive strategic framework for the provision of industrial capacity in London and that a further review should be undertaken of the borough categorisations to provide capacity, retain capacity, or manage limited release.
The Plan is criticised for ignoring the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport. The Inspectors state that it should be included in the indicative list of transport schemes.
The Mayor’s reaction
It is interesting that the Mayor has made the report public at this early stage. He is entitled to sit on it for up to two months from receipt, at which point he must write to the Secretary of State if he does not intend to take on board all of the Inspectors’ recommendations. There has already been speculation in the media that he is unlikely to concede on environmental-led issues such as the Green Belt or expansion at Heathrow.
Upon receipt of any response from the Mayor, the Secretary of State has, in principle, six weeks to choose whether to intervene and issue a holding direction to prevent the Plan being adopted. However, they do retain the right to seek an extension to that deadline.
The timing of all of this is clearly challenging in terms of national politics, the timing of a general election, who might be occupying No. 10 and whether we will have yet another Secretary of State. Coupled with the timing of the Mayoral election next May, it is impossible to predict how this may all play out, when the new London Plan might actually be adopted and in what form. The only thing that is certain is that further delays are highly likely.
Regardless of the politics at play, the fact remains that, whilst this particular Plan has largely been found sound, it only takes us so far. National planning policy has already moved on. There will be significant pressure on the Mayor to conduct an early review of the Plan and for that to incorporate a comprehensive review of the Green Belt in partnership with the Wider South East authorities.
We will continue to update Members with more detailed analysis over the coming days.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the Inspectors’ report and its implications for planning in London, please do not hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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