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 the inspectors’ response to the London Plan.
The inspectors were unconvinced by the plan’s assumption that it would deliver 38% of new homes on sites with 25 units or fewer. They recommended reducing the small-sites target by over 50%.
This highlights the difficult choices London faces. The inspectors had no choice but to reduce the housing targets as the small-sites policy was not effective or justified. But having concluded that the plan had maximised brownfield capacity, we move ever further from building the homes the capital needs.
The report concludes that demand for B8 storage and distribution uses has been greatly underestimated, requiring many hundreds of hectares, including land in and around the Central Activities Zone. The inspectors recommend that boroughs should consider whether the green belt needs reviewing in local plans to provide more industrial capacity in sustainable locations.
The most interesting thing about the inspectors’ report is that it has already shifted the debate on to the next review. This is likely to be far from “immediate”, despite the inspector who examined the further alterations to the London Plan in 2014 calling for one, as did former secretary of state James Brokenshire in July 2018. The inspectors 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 recommendation for a strategic review of the green belt is significant and intrinsically linked to the panel’s position on the duty to co-operate. The report concludes that the duty did not apply to this Draft New London Plan, based on the Planning Practice Guidance that was extant at the time. But the report notes that the National Planning Policy Framework 2019 does apply the duty to co-operate to spatial development strategies, so it will apply to future reviews.
The shortfall between forecast housing need and the revised target increases pressure on the South East to help meet London’s housing need and is a source of 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.
Given the nature of politics, it’s hard to predict whether the next secretary of state will intervene and when the plan might be adopted. In light of the general election in December and mayoral election in May, the only prediction that can be made with any certainty is that uncertainty lies ahead, and consequently that further delays are likely.
Sarah Bevan is programme director at London First