London Plan Adopted at Last

31st March 2021

The London Plan was formally adopted on 2nd March after years of back and forth between the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government (SoS). Now formally part of the Development Plan for London Planning Authorities and with the Mayoral Election on the horizon in May, we look into the detail of its contents.

The new London Plan is designed to implement a number of manifesto commitments made by the Mayor when he was elected in 2016, including:

  • making London a zero-carbon city by 2050;
  • a long-term target to achieve 50 per cent of all new dwellings as affordable homes;
  • supporting a modal shift so 80 per cent of journeys are by walking, cycling or public transport by 2041;
  • protecting London’s Green Belt.

It has been almost four years since Sadiq Khan’s original draft Plan was published and many changes have been made to reach the version of the document we have now. Battles between City Hall and Whitehall back in December 2019 saw the Mayor reject 15 recommendations made by Planning Inspectors relating to his draft Plan. Consequently, 2020 resulted in discussions between the SoS and the Greater London Authority regarding specific points of disagreement, which included tall buildings, industrial space and most importantly, housing numbers.

In fact, Jules Pipe, the Deputy Mayor of London for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, revealed in a recent podcast (Have We Got Planning News For You, episode 7) that the disagreement on housing delivery is one of the reasons why a new London Datahub has been established. The London Datahub is a collaborative project between all planning authorities in London to produce a dataset of development proposals in the planning process. Planning applications are now subject to new information requirements relating to Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and Land Registry title numbers, which will support the Datahub and, in theory, assist in clarifying the number of homes granted permission across London.

Accepting that delivery had been “lumpy”, the Deputy Mayor also stated in the podcast that there was a healthy pipeline of permissions which were yet to be delivered. He believes the delay was not the fault of the planning system but mainly due to funding and infrastructure delays. This is an interesting point, as viability is so often a major question in decision making and appeal decisions, especially in London. Pipe continued to say that under the Mayor’s leadership the average percentage of affordable housing provided in referred schemes was up from the “low teens [in percentage terms]” to 41-42%.

One of the key cornerstones of the new London Plan is its focus on addressing the climate emergency. It provides clear rules for all new developments to meet low carbon, energy efficiency and sustainability standards as part of a drive to make London a zero-carbon city by 2050.

In particular, the Plan is pioneering the regulation of embodied carbon levels in proposed buildings. The Mayor requires all major developments to be net-zero carbon in order to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.  Policy SI 2 means that all schemes will need to ‘calculate whole life-cycle carbon emissions through a nationally recognised assessment and demonstrate actions taken to reduce them’. Read more in our article Sustainability Standards.

Another key question regarding the New London Plan is, is it already old? The Government’s review of the planning system will likely result in the reassessment of the London Plan within a year of its publication, particularly in relation to housing numbers.

With Mayoral elections due in May 2021, there may be some grandstanding regarding the London Plan from both the Mayor and the SoS, who will be supporting the Conservative Party Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey. Nevertheless, the long awaited adoption of the London Plan gives greater clarity for decision making for now. We are keen to see the live Planning Datahub in action, how appeal decisions on housing numbers and energy requirements will be interpreted and how it affects housing need and delivery statistics in the future.

For further advice about the changes and how they may affect your planning project, please contact Bell Cornwell’s London office.

Geoff Megarity, Senior Planner

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