Suggested changes this week to the Boris Johnson London Plan could spell positive news for housing

There few things more important to the future of development and construction in the capital than the details of the London Plan. This week’s Inspectorate’s Examination in Public (EiP) Report into the draft London Plan gave important clues as to what the plan is likely to look like when the secretary of state finally approves it later this year.

The first thing to say about it is to welcome the commitment to housing delivery set out in the EiP report. The EiP, which ran from June to October last year, was chaired by an independent panel appointed by the Planning Inspectorate. Barton Willmore made a number of representations during the EIP process – specifically around the issues of housing delivery and residential space and design standards.

The report, which runs to 327 pages plus lengthy appendices, is not easy to find your way around, but buried in the detail it includes critical wins for the delivery of housing in London.

  • The retention of housing number targets on a London wide basis in spite of the coalition government’s moves to abandon housing targets through abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies elsewhere
  • The recognition that the housing targets are a “minimum” target
  • The Panel’s acknowledgement that that the housing needs for London far exceed the current target of just 32,210 new homes per year. An annual figure within a range of 34,900 and 37,400 is identified as being more realistic
  • The internal space standards for all residential units including flats and houses outlined in the draft Plan should be “indicative” rather than being seen as a ‘minimum’ requirement
  • That Local Development Frameworks produced by the London boroughs should not have to incorporate these “indicative” internal space standards as they stand.  The Boroughs are free to determine their own set of standards provided that they generally conform to the London Plan
  •  The introduction of a space standard for a 1 person/1 bedroom (studio) unit of 37m2 rather than a special case needing to be made for units under 50m2
  • The endorsement that affordable housing should be provided at a mix of 60% social rent and 40% intermediate housing to give impetus to the intermediate sector
  • Clarification that the need to maximise affordable housing provision in London relates to an aspiration that 50% of all new homes across London should be “affordable” rather than this being a policy requirement on individual sites.

We welcome many of the recommendations made by this independent review of the Mayor’s draft London Plan. The retention of housing targets at a regional level, the endorsement of the need for higher housing numbers beyond the minimum targets, and the clarification that the numerical target for affordable homes is still underpinned by an aspirational target of 50% should all provide a greater degree of certainty for developers looking to deliver new and much-needed housing in the capital.

We are also delighted that the EiP panel has recommended the introduction of a space standard for a one person/one bedroom (studio) unit of 37m2 in direct response to our representations. This clearly recognises the importance of single household accommodation as part of the mainstream housing delivery rather than it being a special case.

Overall the feeling seems to be that the emphasis has shifted, from being one almost exclusively about housing quality in Boris’ original blueprint, to being one where the volume of housing output matters again. It may be that the penny is beginning to drop about the importance of economic growth, in the context of March’s budget announcements.

The Mayor has now sent a revised final version of the London Plan to the Secretary of State along with the Panel’s Report to secure his endorsement of the final draft before it is adopted. The extent to which the Mayor has accepted the changes proposed by the Panel will not be made public until the Mayor decides when he will publish the final draft of the London Plan for adoption. This is expected sometime in July 2011 after which the Plan will be adopted and in force.

We await the final version with interest - and perhaps a little more optimism following this week’s intervention.

Les West is a director at planning consultant Barton Willmore