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The London Plan - an update on the saga
21 January 2021
The ongoing saga of the draft new London Plan and its adoption continued throughout the whole of 2020. While I kept hearing from both sides that there had been constructive discussions between civil servants, and that good progress had been made on many of the points in the Secretary of State’s (SoS) holding direction of 13 March, unfortunately the political dynamics between Whitehall and City Hall were hindering progress and nothing further had been said publicly by either party in nine months.
So much time had passed, that one would be forgiven for forgetting what was covered by the SoS holding direction from last March. It directed changes to polices on Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), industrial land (including removal of the ‘no net loss’ principle for existing industrial capacity), optimising density in accessible locations, affordable housing contributions from small sites of 9 units or less, greater emphasis on family sized homes, and residential car parking standards in outer London.
On 9 December 2020 the Mayor made the first move and issued an updated ‘Intend to Publish’ Plan that included amendments following the discussions between both parties in the intervening period and brought the Green Belt and MOL policies in line with national policy. One year had passed since the Mayor had published the first ‘Intend to Publish’ Plan and the pre-election period for the May 2021 Mayoral election was fast approaching on the horizon.
Within 24 hours, on 10 December, the SoS moved swiftly to issue another holding direction. He agreed the amendments proposed by the Mayor and issued two further directions in respect of tall buildings and industrial land policies. This was such a quick response, a draft must have already been sat in MHCLG’s out-tray, but they clearly had not wanted to make the first move.
Firstly, this latest holding direction introduced a new issue in regard to the tall buildings policy. In response to what we understand to be calls from Conservative MPs in outer London boroughs, who want increased scrutiny of tall buildings in their areas, the SoS has directed the Mayor to change the definition of a tall building to one that exceeds six storeys or eighteen metres (the previous definition was ten storeys or thirty metres). Bearing in mind the draft new London Plan requires that tall buildings should only be approved in areas that have been designated as suitable for tall buildings, or on allocated sites, this will hugely tie the hands of decision makers. Introducing this change will potentially have a significant impact on growth across London as a whole: providing those who oppose development a hook on which to refuse well-designed, suitably located tall buildings and, in areas that support growth, there will need to be up-to-date local plan policies in place at a time when local plan production in London has slowed, due to both progress on the London Plan and also the Government’s wider planning reforms.
In addition, the SoS wants the boroughs to be able to reallocate industrial land for housing, if they are struggling to meet their housing targets, rather than consider the release of Green Belt or MOL land. On top of the deletion of the ‘no net loss’ principle for existing industrial capacity, this is a real blow for the industrial and logistics sector. The change in policy stance risks pushing more and more businesses out into the wider South East and raises questions over how we can sustainably service London’s growing population.
The Mayor quickly responded on 21 December with a further version of an ‘Intend to Publish’ Plan that takes on board both of these directions. Seemingly, this was his only choice if the GLA is to have an adopted Plan in place before the Mayoral election in May (assuming that the public health situation does allow the election to proceed as planned). But there are still some risks to achieving that deadline. The Secretary of State has six weeks from receipt to respond, although (as he did last year) he can seek an extension of time. Clearly the current situation with the pandemic could be reasonable justification to seek an extension. Even if/when the SoS approves the Plan for adoption, the Mayor will then have to publish a number of statutory notices and present the latest version to the London Assembly before he can formally adopt it. Therefore, timescales are tight before the pre-election period starts on 21 March and there is still a risk that the Mayor could head into the election without an adopted Plan in place.
We will continue to monitor progress and update you when there is anything further to report. If you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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