The Mayor’s claim to be ‘ripping up the planning rule book’ in order to revolutionise housing delivery may be audacious, but there are sensible and progressive changes afoot, write Alex Woolcott and Karen Cooksley of Winckworth Sherwood

This week saw The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launch the Draft London Plan setting out his strategic vision for the capital from 2019-2041. Open to public consultation from 1 December, the final Plan is due to publish in Autumn 2019.

The Mayor’s claim to be ‘ripping up the planning rule book’ in order to revolutionise housing delivery may be slightly audacious, but there are certainly some sensible and progressive changes afoot.

The significant increases in housing targets will come as little surprise, although the extent to which the burden seems to fall on outer London boroughs will have set some pulses racing. Many face a doubling, tripling or even – in the case of Hounslow – a quadrupling of the number of houses they need to deliver. Of course, the big question is how achievable these targets will be, and references throughout the Plan to ‘proactive intervention’ from the Mayor suggest we could see more frequent involvement to speed delivery.

Housing affordability remains a priority, with the Plan adding practical detail to the already well-known mayoral ambition of 50 per cent affordable provision. By maintaining the current 35 per cent baseline and suggesting a review as late as 2021, the Plan gives developers a slightly unexpected three years’ grace. We could therefore see a rush to bring sites forward before the threshold increases – possibly not quite what the Mayor had in mind. That said, in the face of such elevated targets any new homes are welcome.

The most headline grabbing of the Plan’s proposals has been the relaxation of guidelines on density, with an accompanying focus on brownfield sites and infill development. Helping to unlock much-needed land is a welcome addition to planning policy, but relaxing the density matrix is far from a silver bullet. Local authorities and developers will need to make sure consultations are watertight to ensure that public mistrust and resultant political reluctance don’t prevent this policy from taking effect.

The Plan also recognises the importance of alternative housing tenures like build to rent in solving the capital’s housing crisis. All new build to rent schemes will need to provide at least 50 units and offer a three-year tenancy alongside rent certainty for the period of the tenancy. The policy also recognises the important role build to rent can play in delivering units quickly – although this is equally contingent on local authorities being able to bring forward plans with sufficient speed.

As ever, the challenge now will be making sure that local authorities and developers have the tools that they need to enact new planning policy in practice – no matter how encouraging the Plan looks on paper.