This week’s launch of the new draft London Plan provides the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with a number of opportunities. In the shorter term, publication puts down an important marker ahead of local elections in London next year on May 3rd. It shows that the pressing concerns of Londoners, whether about fire safety in the wake of the appalling Grenfell tragedy, or about the seemingly intractable problem of providing enough affordable homes, are being actively addressed. The Mayor, is keen to be seen ‘ripping up old planning rules’.

As well as enabling Khan to demonstrate a different perspective to that of his high-profile predecessor, setting out a new vision for the future of London’s built environment means he can shape the city’s evolution in fundamental ways. Doing this successfully will be no mean feat however, irrespective of whether the subdued economic assessment presented by the Chancellor in last week’s Budget, in the run-up to imminent Brexit, proves to be prescient or pessimistic.

As well as the difficulties associated with depending upon over thirty competing and often conflicting local authorities to manage growth at the local level, the fact is that London’s population continues to increase relentlessly. This is the driving factor behind almost all of the challenges a successful London Plan has to tackle, from reducing pollution, to managing public transport capacity, to providing more public toilets. The forecast population increase of 70,000 people per year would lead to London’s population rising to 10.5 million by 2041, from closer to 9 million at present. The consequences of failing to achieve the ‘Good Growth’ Khan aspires to could be severe, the benefits of success enormous.

Key takeaways

Some of the main headlines include:

  • The removal of density limits to spur the development of new homes close to town centres and transport hubs
  • A focus on the better use of small sites to meet housing targets and help reduce pressure on the Green Belt, deemed by some to be a ‘garden grab
  • The inclusion of the Mayor’s 50% affordable housing target, to help more people get a foot on the elusive first rung of the housing ladder, with developers securing a fast-track route to planning permission, should they provide a minimum of 35% affordable homes in their planning applications

Among the more eye-catching new policies are those relating to:

  • New growth corridors – These areas will help deliver higher density development in the areas with new infrastructure, including near: Crossrail 2, the Thames Estuary, the Bakerloo Line extension, Central London, the Elizabeth Line East, Heathrow, the Elizabeth Line West, the Trams Triangle/London-Gatwick-Brighton mainline and HS2. They will be critical in helping to achieve the target of building 66,000 homes a year (roughly double the present rate)
  • Tall buildings – The Mayor reiterates his support for tall buildings, with further emphasis placed upon the most suitable locations (with an onus on the boroughs), design and safety
  • Fire safety – With the Grenfell Tower fire still very much in the thoughts of Londoners, the draft plan sets out how fire safety should be improved, including through the introduction of new fire evacuation lifts
  • Retail, pubs and takeaways – Alongside an estimate that London could have a baseline need for further comparison goods retail of approximately 1.6 million sqm up to 2041, two areas will be of potentially more immediate interest to many.  A large number of London’s pubs are struggling, while its takeaway culture goes from strength to strength.  The solution?  For the former, more protections and support for new pubs in suitable locations.  For the latter, a tougher time opening near schools, with pressure on local authorities to refuse planning applications 
  • Green Belt and green cover – Reaffirmation of the Mayor’s pledge to defend London’s Green Belt and open spaces, while proposing to make more than half of London ‘green’ by 2050
  • Transport – Including a commitment for more bike parking and better electric car provision in new development
  • Partnership working in the South East – Unsurprisingly the Mayor is keen to explore new opportunities to accommodate London’s growth… outside London
  • Industrial land – In the week the government published its new Industrial Strategy, the Mayor wants to give more protection for this land, while looking at innovative solutions for industrial land use
  • Toilets – To many, the disappearance of good toilets from public spaces is emblematic of declining civic pride and austerity, and highly emotive. The Mayor emphasises their importance

The three-month consultation starts on 1st December and ends on March 2nd, following this Wednesday’s launch at the huge Barking Riverside site (the London Plan itself will run from 2019 to 2041).  There should be no shortage of advice for the Mayor and his colleagues at the GLA to consider…