London mayor Boris Johnson has wasted no time in setting out a new direction for planning and development policy in the capital. For those bewildered by the policy twists and turns, here’s a quick route map of the proposed changes.
Boris Johnson is to drop his predecessor’s headline 50% affordable housing target in favour of an overall goal of 50,000 new affordable homes in London by 2011.
The homes will be planned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Homes and Communities Agency, which will negotiate targets with individual boroughs. These will then be included in the draft housing strategy that is due out later this year.
In reality, however, Ken Livingstone achieved an average of only 34% affordable housing. As the new mayor has confirmed, he will continue to use the toolkit devised by consultant Three Dragons to calculate how much affordable housing should be included in a development, so most think developers are unlikely to notice much change in the demands on them. Stuart Robinson, head of planning at property company CBRE, says: “This is playing with semantics; if the toolkit threw up 35% before, in the same economic circumstances it’s going to do the same now and that’s what developers will be asked to pay. So it could be a bit of storm in a teacup.”
The mayor has promised supplementary planning guidance to set standards for the provision of cycle parking in developments. This is already in the London Plan, but David Lunts, the director of policy and partnerships at the GLA, says the envisaged guidance would up the ante on developers.
The revised London Plan will include provision for a section 106 levy specifically for Crossrail. The initial suggestions are that about £200m could be raised using this route, although details of what developments will be subjected to the charge have yet to be revealed. Some have suggested that it should apply to developments within a certain distance of a Crossrail station; others, that it should apply to all London schemes, given its likely benefits for the whole of the capital.
The likelihood is that it will be the former, says Lunts: “There will need to be a demonstrable connection between the type and scale of development and its proximity to a Crossrail station.”
Changes to the London Plan will make it harder for developers to secure planning permission for small-scale residential developments in domestic back gardens. “The policy will say inappropriate development – where good quality garden amenity space is lost to commercial development – should no longer be allowed,” says Lunts.
According to the GLA, planning permissions for 2,400 homes were approved between 2003 and 2006, which involved the loss of some garden space for about 5% of the total permissions granted. However, Tim Johnson, a planning lawyer at solicitor Davies Arnold Cooper, says this intention could run aground on the mayor’s other objective of increasing housing supply. “A lot of housing is provided by smaller developers, and many small developments in London have been on backland, particularly in the suburbs where you’ve got bigger gardens,” he says. “There’s only limited supply of land in London, but by ensuring open space is not used, the mayor is reducing land available for development. He may have problems making that add up.”
Housing design guide
Mayoral agency Design for London is putting together a housing design guide to provide detailed technical guidance covering areas such as internal space standards, sustainable building forms, energy efficiency and access for disabled people. Lunts stresses that the guide will be aimed at housing subsidised by public funding and not private market housing. “At the moment, there is no intention to introduce minimum space standards for all private housing,” he says.
The London Plan is to be updated to include a policy enabling planners to use section 106 agreements to require the inclusion of small, affordable shop units in retail development. However, Robinson says: “The best schemes that have provided space for independent retailers are ones that have come through the willingness of the industry to provide them. When you try to put these innovations into legal agreements, it totally stifles them.”
The mayor has said he will back tall buildings provided they are in clusters and give due consideration to local context. There will be a general presumption against stand-alone tall buildings, particularly if they are in protected view corridors (see below). Allies and Morrison's proposed Elizabeth House in Waterloo is rumoured to be under threat, and Ian Simpson’s Beetham Tower and Wilkinson Eyre’s 20 Blackfriars Road are facing public inquiries. During the mayoral election, some developers feared Johnson would clamp down on tall buildings, but commentators say his proposals are less draconian than expected. “Yes, it is more restrictive, but not as much as we thought it would be,” says Tim Johnson. “One of the mayor’s objectives is to guard London’s economic vibrancy, and his feelings on tall buildings are being tempered by the need for high-density office space.”
World Heritage Sites
The supplementary planning guidance on protected views, particularly of World Heritage sites, is being updated to reflect the mayor’s opinions on tall buildings. “His approach is that views of heritage sites have been narrowed, and some low-level intrusion into views is allowed,” says Lunts. “He wants something that unambiguously forbids tall building that intrudes on historic sites.”
The consultation paper, Planning for a Better London, pledges to use the system to push for developments to be zero carbon. One way of achieving this will be the housing design guide (see above), but the document also promises revised supplementary planning guidance on sustainable construction and the use of renewable energy. According to Lunts, this will not backtrack on Ken Livingstone’s policy that 20% of the energy needs of developments greater than a certain size should come from on-site renewable sources, but it will also reflect Johnson’s belief that insisting on 20% is not necessarily the right way. “There’s a debate going on that there should be less insistence on renewables and more on developers contributing to district or area-based energy networks,” says Lunts. “It’s likely this is where we’ll be looking.” This approach has been broadly welcomed. “There has to be a slackening of the 20% rule because it’s not going to be affordable under current market conditions, and solar and wind power just don’t work in London,” says Robinson.