Planning reform is a vital part of the government’s pro-growth agenda but now development in London is in danger of stagnating

mugs tom broughton

For the next six months, development in the capital is at risk of stagnating. And it is not simply a case of failing to cope with the
demands of the current economic turmoil. This is a story of poorly drafted legislation – and a warning of what happens when the government doesn’t question the impact of development policy before implementation.

On page 16, we examine how the introduction of the landmark Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) - which in London is designed to raise £300m to help pay for Crossrail - has caused paralysis for local authorities and private partners, leading to a raft of schemes across the capital being put on hold. In short, applications that had planning approval prior to the implementation of the CIL, but need alterations, could face retrospective unit charges of £50 per square metre - rising to £600 in certain London boroughs. In a simple stroke, one policy has created a ripple of confusion that is now sending our all-powerful London mayor into a spin.

In a simple stroke one policy has created a ripple that is now sending our all-powerful London mayor into a spin

Perhaps it’s not time to panic just yet. The government has revealed that plans are afoot to change the Planning Act to sidestep the problem and get projects from the in-tray onto site (although you imagine there will still be a couple of desks’ worth of community consultation documentation awaiting painstaking consideration).

The government has made planning reform a touchstone of its pro-growth agenda. But if it is serious about getting the planning system working, then simplifying policy into a couple of sides of A4 is not enough. More importantly, it needs to work hard to lift the logjam at local authority level, where two years of planning revolution and cuts to council funding have effectively left the system on strike in many areas. While it is too late to turn the clock back on reform, a period of stability is sorely needed to allow the dust to settle.

In the meantime, we will probably have to wait until October - the soonest date, apparently, that the legislation governing the CIL can be amended - to get the capital moving again.

Pycroft’s progress

It takes five minutes to get you across the river and can carry 2,500 people an hour from the former Millennium Dome to the Greenwich Millennium Village. The Mace-built cable car is a simply stunning design and engineering feat (see pages 34-38). It is proving to be quite a year for the consultant turned contractor turned total developer. If chairman and chief executive Stephen Pycroft’s ambition was to turn Mace into the 21st-century version of Bovis, with a reputation to boot, then he is succeeding. The cable car is just one of a series of brave contract wins - including the fixed-price Shard project and the construction of a new home on Blackfriars Road for Building magazine (a notoriously tough customer …). When the time eventually comes for chief executive-designate Mark Reynolds to take the reins, you can bet there will be further evolution. But Pycroft has certainly set the running.