Wrapping up the Draft New London Plan Examination in Public: Weeks 9-11
29 May 2019
After 34 days of hearings covering 94 matters, the draft new London Plan examination finally came to a close. These last three weeks have focused primarily on waste, infrastructure, retail and viability, with representatives of the Ministry for Homes, Community and Local Government observing every session from the gallery.
We argued that the omission of any reference to practical delivery in Policy S1, or its supporting text, needs to be addressed. We suggested that Infrastructure Delivery Plans would be the best way of identifying mechanisms to ensure delivery and appropriately prioritise developer contributions according to circumstances at the borough level.
Play and informal recreation
We sought a more flexible approach in Policy S4 to standards and provision. Each borough must assess local need and develop local play strategies, so it follows that they should therefore have more discretion to tailor their own play standards and requirements according to local circumstances.
David Smith, the chair, noted that draft Policy SI1 focuses on assessing development proposals and suggested it should contain guidance for Local Plans; however, the GLA contested that this had been a deliberate change in emphasis. We – and many other participants – have argued that there needs to be a definition for Air Quality Positive and clarification over the Mayor’s expectations for this new concept. The GLA advised that guidance on this will be forthcoming in the form of an SPG, but when pressed on timing could not commit to a timescale at this stage, though they recognise this is a ‘reasonable priority’ in order to implement the Plan.
Hot food takeaways
Our penultimate hearing session covered new Policy E9D, which seeks to prevent any new A5 use within 400m of a school. Whilst we all fully support the overarching aim to reduce childhood obesity, this policy is a perfect example of the Plan being overly prescriptive and diving into matters better dealt with by the boroughs, who have a deeper understanding of local issues. E9D is a blunt policy tool that sets a worrying precedent for future strategic policies.
And, finally, we reached the session that many of us had been looking forward to and which drew together many of the points raised throughout the examination process; how the Plan’s policies will cumulatively impact on viability and, ultimately the ability to deliver. The session was chaired by William Fieldhouse, and it was good to see such strong representation from the development industry, which hopefully sent a persuasive message to the panel about the strength of feeling from those involved in practical delivery.
During questioning, the GLA confirmed they will be using their evidence to judge viability on a scheme-by-scheme basis. They also asserted that further viability work at a local level will not be necessary. However, what was absolutely clear from the discussion is that thorough viability testing will still need to take place at the Local Plan stage.
We remain concerned that during this process the GLA kept referring to land values – and the need to control them – to justify their approach. The overwhelming feeling amongst the participants was that the Mayor’s evidence base was not commensurate with the detail of the Plan. Therefore, either the Plan needs to be stripped back and made more strategic, or the evidence base needs to be more thorough and the policies more robustly tested.
Industry concerns for development across London
We remain deeply concerned that the cumulative impact of various new policies has not been properly assessed which risks a harmful impact on development viability across London. We urged the panel to clarify that the Mayor’s evidence should not be used to determine viability on an individual scheme basis and, furthermore, that the panel recommends that any future viability assessment on a London-wide basis is better evidenced, more robustly tested, and involves genuine collaboration with the industry.
In total, London First submitted 39 written statements and participated in 24 hearing sessions during the EiP process. I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who have contributed to our work throughout the process to ensure we have represented the collective interests of our Members.
As I reflect on the process to date, I feel confident that the panel of inspectors has fully grasped the issues and that they understand where the weaknesses lie. They haven’t given a great deal away in terms of their thinking, but their questioning has certainly drilled down into the key issues and put the GLA under particular pressure on housing strategy, small sites, industrial land, affordable workspace, green belt and viability, all key issues for us.
Only time will tell whether the panel conclude that the Plan passes the tests of soundness. However, it’s clearly not in anyone’s best interests to totally derail this more ambitious Plan. A lot needs to be done to make it more effective and ensure its objectives are delivered. A likely outcome will be a panel report that identifies the Plan’s shortcomings and recommends an immediate review. Many will recall that this was the outcome of the previous EiP in 2014 for the FALP version of the London Plan – and yet it’s still taken us five years to get back here. It will all depend on the strength of the recommendations in the report, and one can only hope they will trigger some constructive talks behind the scenes between the Mayor and the Secretary of State.
By end of June – the GLA will publish a consolidated version of the Draft London Plan incorporating all minor suggested changes, further suggested changes and the changes agreed in the hearing sessions
September – the Panel will issue their report to the GLA
November – the GLA have eight weeks to consider the report before they have to make it public and they will need to write to the SoS if they do not intend to adopt the recommendations of the Panel
January – the SoS then has six weeks to consider any submissions and decide if they want to intervene
‘Early 2020’ – the Mayor’s target for adopting the Plan
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