Written evidence submitted by the Greater London Authority [FPS 149]

 

1. Is the current planning system working as it should do?

 

Although not perfect, in the London context the planning system broadly works as it should do. This is made possible by the Mayor’s devolved powers within the planning system: the London Plan, the Mayor’s call-in powers for planning applications and the requirement for local plans to be in “general conformity” with the London Plan. The application of these mechanisms achieves the right balance between scrutiny of decision-making, timeliness, public engagement and democratic oversight and the need to deliver Good Growth[1] in the context of a complex city with a range of strategic challenges.

 

It is important to note that, on average, 88% of planning applications are approved, with between 85% and 90% determined within relevant timescales[2]. This performance is markedly improved compared to earlier in the decade and the worst performance in terms of timescales coincides with the last significant change to the planning system through the Localism Act 2011.

 

The Mayor already implements some of the broad mechanisms proposed by the White Paper, for example he designates broad growth areas based on capacity, regeneration opportunities and infrastructure investment. This enables investment in wider physical and social infrastructure to support good growth in an approach suited to the London context.

 

 

What changes might need to be made?

 

Simplification of some aspects of the existing planning system would be welcomed.

 

The Planning Officers’ Society have long petitioned for changes to Section 73 of the Town & Country Planning Act (Removal, Variation or Discharge of a Condition of Permission) and Section 96A of the Town & Country Planning Act (Non-Material Amendments). These often slow progress following the grant of planning permission due to the need to alter prior to, or during, the course of construction. More broadly, many of the consents and mechanisms that feature in the White Paper are already available but are poorly used or have not produced the necessary outcomes envisaged in the White Paper. Local and Neighbourhood Development Orders are not a significant feature of the planning system despite being in place since the Localism Act 2011[3]. Permission in Principle, introduced in a restricted form in 2017 appears to have limited take up. It would be important to understand why there has been such limited take up of these mechanisms before applying them more universally or replacing other tried, tested and embedded approaches. The focus should be on the significant scope for improvement within the current planning system to streamline the plethora of consents and mechanisms that have evolved over time, to create instead a simple, comprehensive and flexible suite of consents that are easy to understand and apply[4].

 

The Mayor is also concerned about the ongoing expansion of Permitted Development Rights (PDR): Only 22 per cent of PDR conversions meet nationally prescribed space standards, 72 per cent are single aspect, and just 3.5 per cent have private amenity space. However, the government’s own Living with Beauty report recommended that space standards should be applied to PDR schemes, while the Prime Minister has promised that new homes will give people adequate space to live and grow. Rather than take the opportunity to correct the mistakes of existing regulations, more PDR has been introduced to allow upward extensions and the demolition and rebuilding of commercial and residential buildings without the need for planning permission. The Mayor is very concerned that these changes will lead to further sub-standard housing in inappropriate locations and substantial amounts of development that delivers no affordable housing, making lower infrastructure contributions. Londoners will struggle to support such development, as they know that to build back better we must create sustainable and attractive places where there is high quality housing for everyone – including genuinely affordable housing.

 

The Duty to Cooperate (DtC) is largely recognised as ineffective, introducing significant delay and uncertainty into the plan-making process with limited (if any) benefit. In London, the London Plan and other Mayoral planning powers successfully ensure that strategic, cross-boundary issues are planned for across 35 planning authorities. However, the DtC has not been effective in facilitating strategic collaboration beyond London and therefore this is highlighted as an appropriate change to the current planning system. Nonetheless, there will still be a requirement for effective strategic collaboration mechanisms and structures. It is not considered, however, that the White Paper provides any practical or functional suggestions in this regard. It is considered that where devolved administrations with directly elected Mayors are in place, strategic coordination functions work well at that level of government. However alternative mechanisms to the DtC will be required where they are absent.

 

There is significant scope for greater use of digital tools. This could be supported further e.g requiring planning applications to utilise available technologies such as data collection or 3D modelling (and contribute towards their cost) which is then made available to communities. With the ambition expected from a world city, the Mayor has shown leadership in exploring a wide range of digital innovation projects leading the way towards more effective and user-friendly planning practices and we are keen to do more. For example, we are also currently looking at how the new London Plan can be presented digitally to enable customers to quickly access exactly those policies needed for their individual purposes. However, it is noted that steps must also be taken to ensure those with compromised, intermittent or no access to digital channels are not disenfranchised.

 

A review of planning fees is also overdue. The development industry and communities crave a properly funded planning system, where the costs of plan-making, determination of planning applications and enforcement are properly funded to ensure they have the capacity to take robust decisions in a timely way and engage local communities effectively.

 

 

Are the Government’s proposals the right approach?

 

The government’s approach is not the right one. Wholesale change would cause a significant disruption to the planning system and development pipeline as the changes made to the planning system between 2010 and 2015 demonstrate. Improvement to the existing planning system have the potential to yield the desired benefits with significantly less risk. As noted by the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment in 2016:

 

We are concerned, however, that the focus on quantity of housing must not work to the long-term detriment of planning for the whole of the built environment and the delivery of high-quality development. Moves towards deregulation of the planning system, coupled with an intensification of housebuilding, have the potential to exert significant enduring impacts upon the built environment in England. A consistent theme across much of the remainder of this report is the need for quality, as well as quantity, and the need to think about long-term implications for ‘place’, as well as the important and more immediate need for more housing.[5]

 

Proper scrutiny of proposals through the planning system is not the cause of delay to build out rates and, as we recover from Covid-19, we should not risk replacing one health emergency with others: in particular, we must ensure development is fit for a future where serious measures are needed to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. The proposals in the White Paper, which are wide-reaching and untested, will not address this, but will cause substantial disruption and uncertainty, putting investment decisions at risk.

 

Limiting the role of elected members and communities in determining planning applications will make the process less democratic and will only increase the scepticism of the public for new development.

 

These proposals are likely to exacerbate and hardwire inequalities into the system, further eroding social mobility through the built environment. Its simplistic ‘growth’ and ‘protection’ designations threaten to reduce regulation in areas that often already have a poorer local environment, fewer opportunities and worse health outcomes and are likely to reinforce divergence from more affluent areas.

 

Furthermore, modelling suggests that the proposals are very unlikely to deliver “at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing as at present” and it is notable that there is a lack of any supporting evidence or detailed proposals. Coupled with the government’s recent consultation proposing to temporarily raise the affordable housing threshold to 40-50 homes and introduce an unaffordable First Homes product, the most likely outcome will instead be a considerable drop in affordable housing delivery exacerbating homelessness and overcrowding in London and elsewhere.

 

Any changes must recognise the fundamental role that transport infrastructure plays, not only in unlocking and supporting development but also in enabling higher densities, successful places and sustainable growth. Any proposals must ensure that the appropriate infrastructure and mitigations will be delivered in an assured, timely way. The current proposals instead put this at significant risk.

 

Plan-making

The government has drawn on some aspects of international zonal systems to propose a hybrid planning system. However, zonal systems rely on often lengthy plans and plan-making stages, as befits the level of detail required to secure high-quality development. The proposed 6 week consultation phase and a further examination phase is grossly inadequate as the main means for communities to help shape their neighbourhoods and for local planning authorities to ensure key outcomes and reflect community input or diversity. Good engagement takes time, including community capacity-building and iterative discussion. Co-design processes, as championed in Living with Beauty, take 6-12 months and significant resource to be meaningful. A 30 month Local Plan process does not allow for this, particularly if design codes providing bespoke neighbourhood-level criteria which collectively cover whole local planning authorities are expected to be twin tracked. The detail required to deliver “beauty” and high quality, high performing, functional design across 365 local planning authorities is simply not deliverable within the timescales set out particularly in the context of reduced local authority capacity[6]. Without such detail in place, there would be limited safeguards for the fast-track permission processes envisaged.

 

Use of plans and codes to determine appropriate development is often slower and significantly less flexible than a discretionary planning application process. Furthermore, many international systems focus on scale and massing criteria rather than aesthetic appearance, and this is at odds with England’s historic focus on uniformity and the references such as Victorian-style pattern books in the White Paper. In the English context, insistence on rigid design features would stifle innovation and would preclude many of our best contemporary developments, favouring a tick-box approach to specified ‘traditional’ building elements which fail to cumulatively deliver great design or great places and instead risk being merely ‘pastiche’. The government’s own research has found that design is relatively low on the list of factors that are likely to reduce opposition to new development[7] (notwithstanding that we fully support high quality design and place-shaping but do not consider the proposals as they stand would deliver this).

 

The impact of zonal systems on land markets should also not be underestimated. These can significantly inflate land values and landowner expectations in areas designated for development. These higher development costs will make it harder to deliver the type, scale and quality of development that is needed and appropriate to the relevant area, as well as the supporting infrastructure. Finally, these proposals risk considerable abortive local authority expenditure to prepare the prescriptive codes necessary to avoid further negotiation at development stage, but which do not match the aspirations of the developer who proposes an equally sustainable but very different scheme. Such a waste of scarce public funds would be unconscionable. The government must accept that achieving certainty is usually at the expense of providing flexibility and innovation.

 

Pursuit of national development management standards would be a significant centralisation of the planning system that sits at odds with the government’s devolution agenda. International examples of zoning systems have layers of different plans, and the level of detail is provided as needed at a city-region and at an individual neighbourhood level. Moreover, there are few genuinely local housing markets contained within single local authority boundaries particularly for built up urban areas. It is therefore recommended that Spatial Development Strategies (SDSs) continue to play their current role for city-regions, in line with arrangements in other global cities, with local and neighbourhood-level influence over details of design and implementation as appropriate  Future versions of the London Plan and other SDSs would need to be provided for in the national statutory plan-making process and aligned with local plan preparation.

 

Suites of national policies must still allow for further and higher city-region/local standards where a one-size-fits-all approach would otherwise reduce quality standards, development capacity or will inevitably be unambitious or inappropriate if they are to apply in both dense and complex city environments as well as rural shires. Such standards must also be expansive enough to deliver good growth including the range of measures that will be needed to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, for example, rather than an inevitably more constrained national approach focussed on energy standards and with merely nods to sustainable transport[8]. The Mayor considers that the White Paper proposals will reverse the positive progress being made in London and fail to address the scale and urgency of the need to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies. The Mayor has demonstrated leadership on a range of key policy areas and recently published draft London Plan Guidance to put these policies into practice including on:

 

 

Other matters such as housing type and tenure must be more responsive to housing markets than national standards would allow. The Mayor’s new London Plan, providing a consistent framework across 35 local planning authorities, provides a useful starting point for discussion.

 

London’s 48 Opportunity Areas (OA) provide a useful proxy for considering the implications of the proposed Growth Areas in built up urban areas. OAs are designations in the London Plan (enshrined in local plans) with development capacity to accommodate a range of uses, typically containing capacity for at least 5,000 net additional jobs or 2,500 net additional homes (or a combination). Many OAs cross borough boundaries and most are linked to key transport infrastructure investment. They include large, vacant brownfield areas such as the Royal Docks and areas of existing dense urban fabric with significant heritage assets such as Victoria. They collectively provide planned, deliverable capacity for almost 500k homes and over 700k jobs. Whilst all of these areas have capacity to deliver significant growth (hence the OA designation) the Growth/Renew/Protect classifications and associated consent processes are too blunt a tool to be useful. Not all sites in these areas are suitable for unfettered development; flexibility is needed to optimise capacity at a granular level, which is achievable through excellent design which may indeed enable more (and certainly better) development, where appropriate, than set by hastily developed plans. Plans that categorise land for specific development rapidly get out-dated and are unable to adapt to unforeseen or unpredictable events (for example the fall-out from the current pandemic) or even to later planned phases of development.

 

A further example of why the White Paper designations fail to provide a useful framework can be seen in London’s Strategic Industrial Locations. The new London Plan provides for intensification of these areas in prescribed circumstances. These locations could usefully have a ‘growth’ designation for further industrial development; but may need ‘renew’ classifications for other commercial land uses and a ‘protect’ classification for housing and community uses. This highlights the significant omission from the White Paper to meaningfully consider non-residential uses, economic development or the contribution non-residential uses make to communities, neighbourhoods and cities overall. The system as currently described appears to simply have binary choices: a blanket designation (with a very narrow focus on housing) and inflexible list of uses.

 

Development Management

Our experience shows that it is not possible to determine fully the parameters of schemes at plan-making stage as details, ownership, markets and local preferences all change to a greater or lesser degree over time. In some cases, a less discretionary system could force more conservative assumptions at the local plan stage, for example if there is no opportunity to assess the potential for rail capacity upgrades during the outline permission stage. International examples of protracted re-zoning processes are to be avoided. The system will need timely consents-based mechanisms to scrutinise variations from the specified criteria and for acceptable schemes to be delivered in a timely way. If the government is to persist with these changes, we suggest the current complex suite of consent types and regimes[9] is revisited to create a comprehensive yet simple suite of consents to allow sufficient flexibility outside the plan-making functions.

 

Alongside these considerations, after 10 years of austerity which is having a devastating impact on local councils, the development industry craves a properly funded planning system[10]. The suite of consents we refer to above should include full cost recovery for any discretion sought outside the standards and criteria established at plan-making stage, such as charging officers’ time directly as required to assess the application. This would incentivise compliance because the more aspects of non-compliance the greater the resources required to assess the application and therefore the higher the fee. It would also ensure that the scale of the departure and the resources required to properly assess it are fully reflected in the cost to the applicant rather than diverting funding from front-line services.

 

Sustainable Development Test

The Mayor is concerned that there is insufficient detail in the White Paper to assess the efficacy of the new sustainable development test. The term ‘sustainable development’ is well-known but also open to significant interpretation, and there is no indication in the proposals how to define it, although it will be fundamental to any future planning system to understand what the government means by it.

 

If the current Tests of Soundness were to be replaced with one single streamlined test, it is critical to have a clear and standardised approach that ensures that the full range of likely sustainability impacts currently considered are still comprehensively and robustly assessed and mitigated. This would be particularly important but also challenging for designated Growth Areas, where automatic Outline Consent would be granted through a local plan, while site-specific infrastructure and/or environmental considerations could not be optimised until a detailed planning application stage.

 

A slimmed down delivery test as part of the new process could give rise to development plans that are unrealistic (e.g. high housing targets that are not going to get built out due to market absorption). It may also make it more difficult to set levels of affordable housing, infrastructure and other requirements in local plans appropriately.

 

 

2. In seeking to build 300,000 homes a year, is the greatest obstacle the planning system or the subsequent build-out of properties with permission?

 

Both Kate Barker and Sir Oliver Letwin[11] acknowledged in their respective reviews that changes to the planning system alone will not increase build out rates: but that a huge increase in productivity was required by housebuilders because housing delivery is constrained to ensure sales values are achieved. The Letwin Review noted that homogeneity of the types and tenues of the homes on offer and the limits on the rate at which the market will absorb them are fundamental to the slow rate of build out.

 

Local planning authorities are approving more than enough planning permissions to exceed the government’s build target of 300,000 homes per year. In June 2019, 377,000 residential full planning applications were granted across England which, if built out would deliver just short of 2m homes over 5 years[12]. There are over 300,000 homes in the pipeline for London alone which is almost 6 years’ supply. However, there is a gap of between 800,000 and 1 million homes that aren’t built out despite permissions[13]. It is estimated that between 20% and 50% of sites are sold on post-permission to realise increased land values rather than being built out[14].

 

In line with the recommendations of the government’s Letwin Review, both the 2018 London Housing Strategy and the new London Plan seek to increase housing supply in London by diversifying the housebuilding industry in terms of tenures and developer types, promoting increased delivery from Build to Rent providers, councils, small and medium sized developers and community housing groups. In addition, the Mayor’s delivery programmes such as the Small Sites Small Builders programme has contributed to the diversification of house building in London by facilitating entry of SMEs, bringing forward additional publicly owned sites and bringing more landowners into the market.

 

However, Letwin also found that increasing funding to social rented and other types of affordable home would increase build-out rates by making delivery of these homes less reliant on cross-subsidy from market housing, and that demand for affordable housing and purpose-built private rented homes is largely additional to, rather than a substitute for, demand for market sale homes. Affordable housing – in addition to general diversification - is a key aspect of overcoming stalled build out due to market absorption rates. The government should further consider how policies that promote the delivery of affordable and Build to Rent homes[15] can be strengthened at the national level, rather than relying too heavily on the delivery of homes for market sale. Not only will this increase build-out, it will meet needs and ensure that developers take a longer-term interest in their buildings. 

 

In 2019/20 over 17,000 new genuinely affordable homes were started in London, more than at any other time since GLA records began in 2003. This includes over 7,000 homes at social rent levels and 3,300 new council homes, the most in any year since 1983. A £5bn kick-start package for London with funding to buy unsold homes off the private market, and a longer-term settlement of £4.9bn a year to build council and social housing at the scale the capital needs would tackle the challenges of Covid-19 and drive housing delivery. This should be coupled with interventions to support Build to Rent and small and medium housebuilders.

 

The proposals in the Planning White Paper are likely to further consolidate control of the process with a few volume housebuilders, the exact opposite of the aims of the White Paper or the recommendations in the Letwin Review. Small housebuilders are unlikely to have the resources or business models/land ownerships that would support detailed engagement and influence at the plan-making stage or for design codes/masterplans. Whilst references are made to allowing sub-areas in Growth areas to be created for self and custom-build and community-led housing, this ignores land ownership and the role of small and medium sized housebuilders.

 

Another issue for the build-out of development is infrastructure provision, and a larger number of (even very small) sites can have implications for infrastructure delivery, including utilities. A recent study by the GLA showed that a single landowner/developer can deliver significant benefits in working with utility companies. If sites are split between multiple builders, the Local Plan should ensure multiple developers work together to adopt a comprehensive and long-term approach to infrastructure delivery, particularly utilities. In addition, if the Infrastructure Levy receipts are not received until the development is completed (as per the White Paper’s proposal) the local authority may not provide infrastructure until a scheme is completed, as it will be uncertain how much funding it will receive, or it may choose to prioritise affordable housing delivery. This creates a fundamental issue beyond the immediate one of timing of the receipts: it raises the risk of not getting the equivalent scale of funding (London simply wouldn’t) to pay for the required infrastructure such as the key transport investment required to support the uplift in housing, particularly if that funding is used to meet other costs in the interim, leaving a significant shortfall. In this respect, the quantum and sureity of infrastructure provision as a whole is far more at risk.

 

A significant settlement under the Affordable Homes Programme would provide the best chance of hitting the 300,000 homes target (as well as meeting the needs of homeless and overcrowded households, reducing the cost of temporary accommodation and other significant savings through early intervention). Demand for market homes is fundamentally limited by their cost, which in London is very high. However, as noted by the Letwin Review, demand for affordable housing is virtually unlimited if the funding is there to build it. Consideration should also be given to ways in which bringing forward land for housing go beyond planning reform, including land acquisition, land assembly and infrastructure investment. The government’s 2017 White Paper on Fixing the Broken Housing Market set out a range of proposals in this area, which should be revisited.

 

 

3. How can the planning system ensure that buildings are beautiful and fit for purpose?

 

The Place Alliance Housing Design Audit for England[16] sets out many of the reasons for poor development, including: little distinguishing character or sense of place, poorly designed public spaces, car dominated environments, standard housing units, poor energy performance especially between design and as built and an overall substandard response to the environmental challenges we face. London scores highest out of any region, reflecting the stronger pre-existing urban context, often higher values, leadership and over-arching policy framework of the London Plan and the proactive guidance and design review in London.

 

The report highlights that a third of the schemes audited should have been refused on design grounds and there is evidence that in areas where housing numbers have not been met, poor design is being approved on appeal. This undermines insistence on design quality, particularly where design is mediocre rather than good. This could be exacerbated if proposed changes to the planning system implement refunds where decisions are overturned on appeal as local planning authorities may take an increasingly risk-averse approach to avoid income losses (which, themselves, would further erode the funding available to properly resource placemaking expertise and capacity within planning teams).

 

An over-emphasis on making buildings beautiful is misguided. The broader definition of Good Growth as set out in the London Plan provides a more appropriate tool for delivering the development we need. It is important that quality of the built environment is defined, not just as an aesthetic judgement, but as the things we need to our enhance quality of life – including light, air, access to green and open space and privacy. It is about the function and performance of places. Moreover, there is a lack of consensus as to what is “beautiful” and delegating responsibility for defining beauty to a specific group (design review panels, Chief Design Officer, self-selecting community representatives etc) to embody in rigid criteria would unnecessarily and unacceptably constrain architectural expression and innovation.

 

The tragic Grenfell fire and the ensuing building safety crisis have pointed to the need for a change in the regulatory and policy systems, prioritising public and building safety over profit and purely focusing on aesthetics. Examples of broader considerations which are lacking from the White Paper and which an over-emphasis on aesthetic considerations could compromise include: safety including fire safety; far-reaching measures to tackle climate change and the biodiversity crisis; inclusive design principles; enabling of active travel; improved air quality; vibrant streetscape and economic diversity which need to be further prioritised in the post-Covid world[17]. The draft new London Plan provides a clear framework for delivering high quality design and place-shaping.

 

Any principles or criteria used to define the White Paper concepts of beauty for the purposes of the planning system will also need to reconcile local character and preferences with other considerations such as modern modes of construction, the modal shift needed to achieve the objectives set out in the Department for Transport’s Decarbonising Transport – Setting the Challenge for example and broader interventions required to meet the government’s net zero commitments.

 

Design considerations encompassed in the draft new London Plan and considered to be a minimum suite of considerations to deliver high-quality development and good place-making:

 

 

4. What approach should be used to determine the housing need and requirement of a local authority?

 

If the government chooses to play a role in determining housing need and targets this should be only in relation to broad areas of the country and must encompass and be derived from an overall realistic, evidenced and deliverable spatial plan, taking into account not just housing affordability but social, environmental and economic objectives. It should then be up to democratically accountable regional and local leaders to decide where in their area and how that housing requirement should be met, based on a common strategic vision and their knowledge of capacity and constraints and opportunities available from existing infrastructure or future infrastructure investment. National government is fundamentally too distant from local areas to be able to carry out this latter function effectively or with the right degree of democratic accountability. In London and other city-regions, strategic authorities like the Mayor are best placed to set housing targets, with input from local authorities reflecting the current arrangements for London.

 

The algorithm proposed in the White Paper is broadly accepted to be not fit for purpose in a London context or indeed more widely in other contexts such as the wider South East or the Northern Powerhouse regions. For London, it would fail to respond to the complexity of housing needs and would produce an undeliverable target. There are a number of alternatives available that do not double-count the effect of affordability. This is critical to ensure that the algorithm produces local housing figures that better reflect deliverability and take account of existing extensive conurbations with more limited available brownfield sites for development. For any further changes to be made to the standard method as a result of the White Paper, a more sophisticated model is required to better reflect the reality of dense urban areas and ensure housing calculations don’t actively discourage ambitious boroughs elsewhere in England.

 

The Mayors of London and other combined authorities (including those that emerge through the anticipated Devolution White Paper) are best placed to ensure the strategic delivery of the right development in the right locations and supported by key infrastructure. Notwithstanding our objections to the proposed standard method, any national housing targets should be applied at the London/Metropolitan authority level as we are also best placed to advise on the constraints, opportunities and accommodations needed to significantly increase housing delivery as sought by the proposals. We would strongly recommend the process used to derive London’s capacity, which involves a consistent application of constraints across the capital. Here, the ‘live’ London Development Database is utilised to identify known capacities, and potential sites are optimised through a design-led approach responding to site specific context and opportunities.

 

Moreover, in order to boost housing delivery, much more attention needs to be given to the market and other factors that constrain delivery and which fall outside of the control of authorities and the planning system. It is well understood that there are inherent commercial constraints which prevent house builders from delivering enough homes to reduce house prices and meet housing need, but the government has consistently failed to grapple with this. Instead, the White Paper diverts attention from this reality and forces disruptive and damaging changes at a time when a strong planning system is vital to support good growth and recovery from the pandemic. To address this, recent national and London-wide housing commissions have highlighted the clear case for significant counter-cyclical investment in affordable housing[18]. Notably, the review of build-out by Sir Oliver Letwin found that increasing funding to social rented and other types of affordable home would increase build-out rates by making delivery of these homes less reliant on cross-subsidy from market housing, and also found that demand for affordable housing and purpose-built private rented homes is largely additional to, rather than a substitute for, demand for market sale homes. A large increase in funding for affordable housing is of course also required to meet London’s substantial housing needs[19].

 

As a note of caution, it is instructive to look at the Examination in Public for the new draft London Plan. A need of 65,000 homes per annum was identified and large-site capacity estimates determined through collaborative, site-specific analysis undertaken directly with boroughs, taking into account constraints[20]. In order to meet London’s housing need within its boundaries, and without encroaching on protected areas, an allowance was made for the uplift of development capacity across a range of other sites. This included intensification of town centres to accommodate housing, a flexible approach to the intensification of Strategic Industrial Locations to release land for housing where appropriate, and a policy approach to intensify urban and suburban areas utilising small housing sites[21].

 

However, following the examination in public, the Inspectors’ Panel Report stated in relation to intensification through small housing developments that:

 

“We understand that the policy is intended to be a clear signal that previous approaches need to change and that boroughs need to be pro-active in maximising the contribution that small sites can make. However, the policy approach goes too far too soon.”

 

The Inspector recommended the deletion of the policy intended as the mechanism to achieve the uplift in urban and suburban intensification and halved the targets from small sites from 24,573 to 11,925 homes per annum.

 

The White Paper fails to provide credible mechanisms to avoid this scenario being repeated across England due to the mismatch between the proposed algorithm and the nationally-set binding housing targets. Any changes to the planning system would need to ensure that these barriers to housing uplift are addressed and local / city-region Plans can deliver against binding housing targets. It is unlikely that the growth/renewal/protect designations including the conferring of outline permission or permission in principle would achieve this (or indeed make any difference). Moreover, a pattern-book approach based on existing local residential typologies is likely to be unambitious and reduce anticipated housing delivery in the London context. It is suggested that the government revisit international examples where intensification of neighbourhoods has been successfully achieved to develop legislative and consent regime mechanisms that would deliver this and at the same time promote new entrants to the housing market.

 

 

5. What is the best approach to ensure public engagement in the planning system? What role should modern technology and data play in this?

 

There are many well-established principles of effective public engagement, and all emphasise the need for community capacity-building to get broad representation from across communities, clear and effective communication, genuine and meaningful engagement and an iterative process involving people from the start and at multiple stages throughout.

 

Whilst the desire for pace and certainty in processes is welcomed, this can not be at the expense of sound engagement, pragmatism or iterative opportunities to work towards an agreed position. The 30 month process outlined in the Planning White Paper does not allow for these principles to be applied. Formal consultation for 12 weeks is seen as good practice for each policy-making consultation stage to ensure stakeholders have an opportunity to consider the proposals and hold a meeting cycle within the consultation window. Longer iterative processes are required to build community capacity, particularly to ensure broader representation across communities, and undertake iterative detailed co-design work such as development of locally-led detailed design codes or masterplans. Furthermore, the White Paper does not include the potential for modifications to be made between the draft Local Plan consultation and submission of a Local Plan for independent examination. This is often an opportunity to make minor amendments to resolve objections, reinforcing trust between local authorities and their communities and reducing unnecessary examination time.

 

Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of technology and digital tools and the potential to increase opportunities for participation. Greater use of digital tools in planning and innovation is strongly supported however there must be sufficient infrastructure and resourcing to facilitate this, and the limitations of digital as the primary means for community engagement, including issues of access to technology and exclusion, must be recognised and mitigated[22]. People who are not online should have access to alternative formats and channels. Planning for the Census 2021, whilst digital by default, has highlighted that support is needed for people who are not online to take part, the need for information in accessible formats and different languages and the need for support for people to engage online even where they do have digital access but are less confident using it.

 

A mixed modes approach is key to ensure inclusivity. For example, providing accessible information and communication formats to meet the needs of people with varied disabilities is key to ensuring that the views of different groups are heard[23]. Furthermore, the needs of people with low literacy rates and people who speak little or no English must be considered. Standard templates may help to ensure compliance of digital plans with Public Bodies Accessibility Regulations. It is also noted that within the current planning system, legislative requirements can get in the way of clear and engaging communication, for example, statutory site notices.

 

The purpose of the engagement and the degree to which people can influence the outcome must be clear to all. In the context of ‘Growth’ areas as put forward in the White Paper, the transition of community engagement to the plan-making stage would require very careful stakeholder management to ensure engagement during plan-making and avoid a breakdown in trust and relationships at the subsequent highly-restricted planning application stage.

 

The GLA has recently undertaken exemplary and innovative early engagement on strategic planning documents. For example, the Royal Docks and Beckton Riverside Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF) process started with an extensive period of engagement of over 1,700 local people and stakeholders through pop-up events, community sessions, one-to-one meetings, youth sessions, and online via our Commonplace website. Local newspaper articles, online newsletters and social media targeting users in the local area were used to promote this engagement. The initial engagement phase is now being followed up by another non-statutory consultation on ‘Vision and Principles’ for the OAPF. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this engagement will mostly take place online, with an interactive website via Commonplace, and a series of online workshops including youth-specific sessions. To capture the thoughts of those who are not online, 70,000 leaflets are being sent to local households that can be free posted back with comments. Multiple phases of engagement during the process of creating long-term strategic planning documents means that local people have genuine influence. It opens a discussion, rather than consultation at the end of a planning process, which leaves little opportunity to make changes based on findings.

 

Local Plans rely on substantial amounts of place-based data, often compiled by consultants undertaking one-off pieces of work. The data is handled, stored and presented in different ways by different consultants and LPAs and often it is not published in open formats. Despite this fragmentation, this data is key to understanding the approaches taken by LPAs.

In developing digital Local Plans, a transparent and standardised approach for evidence data would need to be developed also to allow comparing data across larger strategic areas and to identify common spatial challenges and opportunities. Similarly, digital innovation could enhance Local Plan monitoring and make it more efficient through the use of standardised data sets and maps. Transparent and consistent evidence and monitoring data would also facilitate better coordination between spatial and strategic infrastructure planning. Open access to data can also support accessibility, for example for people with disabilities who are using screen readers.

 

New digital tools need to be coordinated and compatible with each other to be effective, including use of overarching standards, including standards for APIs, which all providers will need to use to enable interoperability. This will need to not only apply directly to planning, but all public services that currently feed and use data from the planning system, for example building standards, housing and environmental protection.

 

The model envisaged in the White Paper assumes a new market where SMEs innovate and LPAs purchase solutions from them. Whilst support for SMEs is welcome and there are excellent examples of this in practice, the strained fiscal position of most councils means that LPAs normally do not have the necessary skills in-house or funding to commission and employ SMEs to create new digital plans and other tools for the planning and development industry. It must be recognised that these budgets would need to be carved from frontline services and the investment could only be justified where there are clear and achievable efficiency savings. Whilst we welcome the work of the local digital fund in supporting this area of work, the examples of GLA projects mentioned above demonstrate the significant level of resourcing required to develop functional digital tools that can effectively support decision-making.

 

The Mayor has shown leadership in exploring a wide range of digital innovation projects leading the way towards more effective and user-friendly planning practices. Some examples include:

 

      The Mayor has led the country in opening up spatial data for planning, and publishing a website to enable residents and businesses access to spatial data about development and the city (https://maps.london.gov.uk/planning/)

      In cooperation with the Planning Portal a new platform for ‘live’ data feeds from the London boroughs has been introduced and started to operate successfully (https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/london-plan/london-development-database/london-development-database-automation-project/ )

      An Infrastructure Mapping Application has been developed integrating spatial and infrastructure data across London and helping to coordinate strategic infrastructure interventions to reduce cost to infrastructure providers and minimising disruption for Londoners and business (https://maps.london.gov.uk/ima/ )

      Transport connectivity data is available through TfL’s Web-based Connectivity Assessment Tool (WebCAT), allowing Public Transport Access Levels and travel time catchments to be looked up for any specific location within London (https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/urban-planning-and-construction/planning-with-webcat/webcat )

      Later this year the first ever digital Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) will be commissioned that can be used at any time to support plan- and decision-making. This will complement the huge range of publicly available data through the London Datastore and TfL, supporting third-party app creation and leading the way in openness and transparency

      Innovation opportunities for SME in this sector have been successfully delivered through a Civic Innovation Challenge, which resulted in open source 3D visualisation software: PlanBase the first big step to opening the planning system to all, even those with limited cognitive spatial awareness (https://3drepo.com/new-3d-planning-tool-planbase-to-help-increase-engagement-on-development-proposals/)

      A digital user-friendly version of the new London Plan is being considered. It would for example be searchable by application type and could provide information that specifically relates to a proposed scheme.

 

 

6. How can the planning system ensure adequate and reasonable protection for areas and buildings of environmental, historical, and architectural importance?

 

London’s heritage assets and historic environment are irreplaceable and an essential part of what makes London a vibrant and successful city, and their effective management is a fundamental component of achieving good growth.

 

The government should make it explicitly understood that the historic environment includes heritage assets (designated and non-designated), landscapes and archaeology. Existing legislation and regulations for the historic environment including archaeology, buildings and place, and conservation areas should be maintained.

 

The draft new London Plan aims to ensure that new development will respect and protect areas and buildings of historical and architectural importance. It requires that boroughs develop a comprehensive understanding of their local character including heritage values/the historic environment, as part of the evidence base on which to develop their Local Plan. This understanding should also be informed and underpinned by engagement and collaboration with stakeholders including Historic England, London’s Parks and Gardens Trust, The Royal Parks, other boroughs, heritage specialists, local communities and amenity societies. This approach will help to ensure the effective integration of London’s heritage in regenerative change and should be carried through into the reformed planning system.

The planning system has an important role in protecting areas of environmental value and in mitigating and adapting to climate change. This includes land-use based designations (e.g. sites protected for nature conservation) and policies that are not necessarily spatial (such as those to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality) but which have significant impacts on the condition and quality of the environment. It is important that the planning system maintains the ability to protect areas of environmental value and that its role in enhancing the environment is recognised and promoted.

 

The draft new London Plan aims to protect and enhance the network of green and open spaces and green features in the built environment and more widely through a strategic approach to green infrastructure. The Urban Greening Factor (UGF) is an important part of this, setting out targets for development to contribute to and enhance green infrastructure. This approach allows other policy objectives such as those for biodiversity and sustainable drainage to be considered together and benefits maximised. This approach is flexible to accommodate different design and environmental needs and priorities for specific areas and development sites and could be applied more broadly as part of the new planning system. The UGF policy of the new London Plan was specifically referenced as good practice in the ‘Living with Beauty’ report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (Jan 2020) under its ‘re-green our towns and cities’ policy recommendation. Such good practice should be considered in the context of the preparation and implementation of design codes. 

 

The planning system also has an essential role to play in restoring nature. Nature’s recovery cannot be achieved through protected areas alone – indeed the new London Plan requires all developments to seek to deliver net biodiversity gains informed by local biodiversity priorities. There is the need for site-specific consideration of the impacts of a detailed planning proposal on biodiversity, particularly in more sensitive locations, and also recognising that ecological information can change over time. The expected future reforms to the environmental assessment process are also important in this context

 

 

7. What changes, if any, are needed to the green belt?

 

The Mayor strongly supports the continued protection of the Green Belt. London’s Green Belt makes up 22 per cent of London’s land area and performs multiple beneficial functions for London, such as combating the urban heat island effect, growing food, and providing space for recreation. These functions are critical to tackling the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis and increasing recognition of the contribution green open spaces make to people’s lives following the Covid-19 pandemic. It also provides the vital function of containing the further expansion of built development. This has helped to drive the re-use and intensification of London’s previously developed brownfield land, including in the Opportunity Areas to ensure London makes efficient use of its land and infrastructure, and that inner urban areas benefit from regeneration and investment.

 

Within London, Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) has the same status and protections as Green Belt. It plays an important role in London’s green infrastructure – the network of green spaces, features and places around and within urban areas. MOL protects and enhances the open environment and improves Londoners’ quality of life by providing localities which offer sporting and leisure use, heritage value, biodiversity, food growing, and health benefits through encouraging walking, running and other physical activity. We would expect any protections for Green Belt pursued by the government to apply equally to MOL such as the application of constraints when considering housing targets.

 

 

8. What progress has been made since the Committee’s 2018 report on capturing land value and how might the proposals improve outcomes? What further steps might also be needed?

 

The GLA and TfL gave evidence on behalf of the Mayor to the Committee’s previous investigation on Land Value Capture. Since then, the Mayor has continued to play an important strategic role in establishing a framework for securing higher levels of affordable housing and infrastructure contributions to support the delivery of development in London.

 

The Mayor’s approach to affordable housing

 

The Mayor’s new London Plan and his Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance introduced the ‘threshold approach for affordable housing’ which enables developers to follow a Fast Track Route where 35 per cent affordable housing is provided, or 50 per cent on public and industrial land where industrial floorspace capacity is not re-provided.

 

This has helped to increase affordable housing levels secured through the planning system in London which have risen significantly, with the average affordable housing percentage in approved schemes that were referred to the Mayor increasing from 22 per cent in 2016 to 38 per cent in 2019. The approach has given certainty to the market so that affordable housing requirements are reflected in land values and has helped to avoid protracted viability debates between authorities and developers.

 

This approach also enables the delivery of developments with genuine viability constraints. These are assessed through the Viability Tested Route and are subject to robust testing and viability review mechanisms to determine whether a greater level of policy compliance can be achieved over the lifetime of the development.

 

The Mayor has significantly improved the viability testing process and has worked with government to establish an approach that has addressed the ‘circularity issue’, as considered previously by the Committee, so that developers are no longer able to overpay for land and then use the price paid as a means of reducing the provision of affordable housing. The GLA continues to promote best practice in affordable housing and viability testing in London through co-ordinating the London Authorities Viability Group and has sped up the planning process by issuing standard clauses for S106 agreements.

 

 

 

Mayoral CIL

 

The Mayoral CIL (MCIL) is working well in London with the Mayor working with the 35 Collecting Authorities to collect funds to deliver Crossrail. At the end of the 2019/20 financial year more than £743m had been collected and used to fund the project.

 

 

Infrastructure Levy proposals in the Planning White Paper

 

The proposals for a national Infrastructure Levy (the ‘Levy’) in the Planning White Paper would be a significant and damaging departure from the current system of developer contributions which has been established and developed over the last 30 years. The GLA and TfL have considered this carefully drawing on their substantial experience of dealing with S106 agreements for referable planning applications and the Mayor’s Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), together with the expertise of London Boroughs through the London Authorities’ Viability Group and London CIL Collection Group.

 

The government’s intentions are that the Levy would deliver a consistent and simplified approach, to speed up the planning process and establish an approach that is responsive to local needs, market conditions and that provides greater transparency and certainty for communities and developers. A further aim is to raise more revenue than under the current system. For a range of reasons, the Mayor does not consider that the Levy proposals will achieve this, but instead will cause significant adverse impacts in terms of the scale, timing and certainty of infrastructure funding which will undermine the delivery of development. Key issues are summarised below and will be set out in further detail in the Mayor’s response to the White Paper consultation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These concerns could in large part be overcome through retaining and enhancing the current system of S106 planning obligations which are a key tool for securing affordable housing and mitigating the impacts of development, with the national Infrastructure Levy available to authorities as an alternative to Community Infrastructure Levy for securing infrastructure funding where they consider that this would be more effective.

 

There are compelling reasons for rates to continue to be set at a regional and local level and for infrastructure payments to be made at an early stage in the development process to ensure that the facilities needed to accommodate new development are in place without placing undue pressure on existing communities. As such, there would be substantial benefits in basing any new nationally set Levy under the framework of CIL legislation. This would overcome the significant disadvantages of introducing an entirely new system based on end development value, and would be faster, easier to implement and more effective, with the government and authorities able to draw on their existing experience and expertise of CIL.

 

Further improvements to the current system of securing developer contributions could be achieved through the effective implementation of recent national and Mayoral policy which seeks to limit viability testing to exceptional cases where there are genuine barriers to delivery. While much progress has been made in speeding up S106 negotiations, there is also scope for further improvements through applicants engaging with authorities to enable negotiations and drafting to commence at an earlier stage and through the greater use of standardised agreements.

 

 

November 2020


[1] Define GG via the London Plan definitions

[2] Table P120: District matter table MHCLG https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-planning-application-statistics#district-matter-tables

[3] By the end of 2017 there were 100 adopted LDOs across 50 councils. Around 60 per cent are for commercial types of development, around 20 per cent address new-build residential schemes, mixed-use development and smaller scale householder developments, several of which came forward as a result of the advisory work undertaken by PAS in 2015/16. By April 2019, only 4 NDOs have been made, one of which has since expired. https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/2018%20Case%20Study%20Research%20on%20Local%20Development%20Orders.pdf and https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=46bc30ca-66c6-432e-96b7-8a20874fe07a

[4] The current consents and mechanisms comprise full planning consent, householder planning consent, outline planning consent, demolition in a conservation area, listed building consent, reserved matters, discharge of conditions, modification or discharge of a S106 planning obligation, lawful existing development certificate, lawful proposed development certificate, certificate of lawfulness of proposed works to a listed building, larger home extension prior notification/ approval, agriculture or forestry development prior approval, telecommunication prior approval, advertisement consent, consent under Tree Preservation Orders, notification of proposed works to trees in conservation areas, non-material amendment, removal/variation of conditions, modification of conditions relating to construction hours, environmental approval to extend the duration of a planning permission, planning permission for mineral extraction or associated development, enlargement of a dwellinghouse by construction of additional storeys, new dwellinghouses on detached blocks of flats, new dwellinghouses on detached buildings in commercial or mixed use, new dwellinghouses on terrace buildings in commercial or mixed use, new dwellinghouses on terrace buildings in use as dwellinghouses, new dwellinghouses on detached buildings in use as dwellinghouses, demolition of buildings and construction of new dwellinghouses in their place, Permission in Principle, planning application for development relating to the onshore extraction of oil and gas, Local Development Consent Orders, Neighbourhood Development Consent Orders

[5] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldselect/ldbuilt/100/10002.htm paragraph 56

[6] The GLA 2020 Place-shaping Capacity survey shows that capacity is already stretched. Compared to 2014 most disciplines have reduced in size with average place-shaping teams 24% smaller. The survey can be found at https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/regeneration/advice-and-guidance/helping-london-local-authorities-deliver-good-growth

[7] Source: MHCLG, Public attitudes to housing 2019. Figure 1.4 ranks “possible advantages that might increase support for more homes being built in the local area” according to a national survey, with “higher quality design of homes” coming in tenth behind things like social infrastructure, transport and affordable housing.

[8] Examples include circular economy, achieving net zero and whole life carbon, heat risk, water infrastructure, active travel prioritisation, provision and infrastructure, private vehicle use restraint, urban greening, air quality and other pollutants including light. This is alongside properly embedding measures set out in the government’s Environment Bill and 25 Year Environment Plan within the planning system such as Local Nature Recovery Strategies and net gains in biodiversity. This is in addition to recognising the inherent fluidity of the natural world (for example, protected wildlife not previously recorded may move into new sites within relatively short periods of time) and ensuring provisions set out at plan-making stage can adapt to respond including meeting the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act for example. In relation to sustainable transport, London’s policy framework must reflect the significantly greater access to public transport infrastructure, even in Outer London, than is available in other parts of the country and any policy framework including land use and development patterns need to reflect this, hence why bespoke policies for London are required. Additionally, London has a significantly higher density of local shops, employment opportunities and services within walking distance of people’s homes and greater access to cycle infrastructure.

[9] Full planning consent, householder planning consent, outline planning consent, demolition in a conservation area, listed building consent, reserved matters, discharge of conditions, modification or discharge of a S106 planning obligation, lawful existing development certificate, lawful proposed development certificate, certificate of lawfulness of proposed works to a listed building, larger home extension prior notification/ approval, agriculture or forestry development prior approval, telecommunication prior approval, advertisement consent, consent under Tree Preservation Orders, notification of proposed works to trees in conservation areas, non-material amendment, removal/variation of conditions, modification of conditions relating to construction hours, environmental approval to extend the duration of a planning permission, planning permission for mineral extraction or associated development, enlargement of a dwellinghouse by construction of additional storeys, new dwellinghouses on detached blocks of flats, new dwellinghouses on detached buildings in commercial or mixed use, new dwellinghouses on terrace buildings in commercial or mixed use, new dwellinghouses on terrace buildings in use as dwellinghouses, new dwellinghouses on detached buildings in use as dwellinghouses, demolition of buildings and construction of new dwellinghouses in their place, Permission in Principle, planning application for development relating to the onshore extraction of oil and gas, Local Development Consent Orders, Neighbourhood Development Consent Orders

[10] The GLA 2020 Place-shaping survey https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/regeneration/advice-and-guidance/helping-london-local-authorities-deliver-good-growth

[11] Barker Review of Land Use Planning Final Report Dec 2006 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228605/0118404857.pdf and The Independent Review of Build Out Final Report Oct 2018 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-build-out-final-report

[12] https://pdf.euro.savills.co.uk/uk/residential---other/planning-policy-update-december-2019.pdf

[13] https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=f53db0a4-b78d-4898-80e4-647080dad84b

[14] https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=f53db0a4-b78d-4898-80e4-647080dad84b

[15] The Letwin Review of housing build-out rates found that the market absorption levels of BTR schemes in Wembley Park were approximately 25 homes let per month. This contrasts with a rate of one private sale home sold per month in the same location. Source: MHCLG, Independent Review of Build Out: Draft Analysis, Annexes, 2018

[16] http://placealliance.org.uk/research/national-housing-audit/

[17] Good Growth by Design programme developed with the Mayor’s design advocates. The Healthy Streets Principles in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.

[18] https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/2020-07-21_housing_delivery_taskforce_recovery_plan_rev1_1.pdf

[19] https://www.affordablehousingcommission.org/news/2020/9/23/report-a-national-housing-conversion-fund-buying-properties-to-boost-affordable-housing-supply

[20] Including those designated areas of environmental and heritage value referred to in the White Paper, the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land (which has the same status) and flood risk. Consideration was also given to the need to make an allowance for non-residential development including the Central Activities Zone, the UK’s economic powerhouse, a range of town centres and industrial areas and sites.

[21] The draft new London Plan proposed a presumption in favour of small housing development alongside a range of measures to bring forward increased housing delivery through intensification of small sites including the use of design codes to proactively encourage increased housing supply, approving small housing developments where these are consistent with London Plan policies except where the harm outweighed the benefit of the housing provision or there was a failure to meet the design code. This was anticipated to deliver an additional 24,573 homes per annum.

[22] The New Zealand planning system provides a useful example having had digital plans since 2011. A standard template and format for digital plans and a nationally supported platform e.g through the Planning Portal would support implementation.

[23] Including people with sensory impairments, mobility impairments, poor mental health, cognitive impairment and people with a learning disability. People with disabilities may need reasonable adjustments to be made in accordance with Equality Act 2010 requirements. providing multiple ways of engaging is key to ensuring participation from groups who are less likely to be online or in areas of poor digital connectivity. Accessible formats need to be provided, such as easy read leaflets and paper versions of questionnaires. Ensuring that people can access online events by telephone and considering the cost to individuals of taking part, including people on low incomes, are important considerations to achieving a breadth of participation. Providing captions for online events and using British Sign Language interpreters can support people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to take part for example.