1 Draft London Plan (December 2017) Publishe...">
Draft London Plan | HTA Planning's Summary Picture 1

1 Draft London Plan (December 2017) Published

The Draft London Plan (December 2017) was published last week for consultation. The London Plan sets out the strategic policies that guide development in London. The Draft Plan sets out new and amended policies that will form a blueprint for future development and sustainable, inclusive growth of the capital. The content within it has fundamental implications for our work. For now, though the Draft Plan will be a material consideration, due to the early stage it is at, its draft policies will carry little weight, until a further consultation round in 2018. The draft policies are also not yet finalised, and so may be subject to change. However, it is likely we will start to slowly see some of the new approaches and expectations starting to influence the approach of developers and decision-makers

This note sets out a summary of the likely implications for regeneration schemes and development of housing and mixed-use schemes as a result of the draft policies. The Mayor’s aspirations as represented by these draft policies must also be understood in conjunction with the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG that was published earlier this year, making clear his position on the delivery of affordable housing as a strategic priority. (Our briefing note on this SPG can be found here.)

1.1 London Plan Timetable

Consultation on the Draft London Plan will take place for a period of 3 months, commencing on 1 December 2017, and will close on 2 March 2018. An examination in public is expected to take place in Autumn 2018, with eventual publication of the final New London Plan in Autumn 2019.

2 Summary of Key Implications

2.1 Strategic Housing Targets

As with previous versions of the plan, the Mayor has set out new total annualised housing targets over the next 10 years for London boroughs. The plan sets a strategic target to deliver 64,935 homes across London per annum. This is significantly increased from the current target of 42,389 homes per annum set out within the current London Plan. Also of note is the ambition to provide significantly more homes within Outer London, with significant increases in housing targets for these boroughs ranging from around 1,200 homes per annum to 2,000 homes, with increases of up to 320% in Merton. By contrast, housing targets for Inner London Boroughs have remained relatively similar to the current targets, with housing targets even decreased in a select few boroughs: Islington, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

2.2 Delivery of Housing on Small Sites

In conjunction with the emphasis on housing delivery in Outer London boroughs and in recognition of the distinct challenges this raises, the Draft Plan introduces a new ‘presumption in favour of small housing developments’ in Draft Policy H2. Small sites are considered to be those which delivery up to 25 homes, or are up to 0.25ha. The focus on small sites is also to assist small and medium scale builders to diversify the players contributing to the supply of housing across London, presumably with the ultimate goal of boosting overall housing delivery.

The Draft Plan sets out a range of measures intended to encourage delivery of small sites. These include:

  • Not requiring on-site delivery of affordable housing on schemes of 10 homes or fewer, but allow off-site contribution as an alternative;
  • Allowing new build homes on small sites above ground floor level to conform to Part M4(1) only, removing the need to provide expensive and space hungry lift cores even on the smallest of development.

Anticipating the possible resistance to this proposal from boroughs, the Draft Plan sets out precise housing targets for the delivery of homes on small sites specifically, and breaks this down to borough level. This will be the primary means through which small site housing delivery is encouraged, and will enable measurement against the targets to hold individual boroughs to account. The Draft Plan also encourages boroughs to introduce area-wide design codes to encourage higher densities on small housing developments, as well as increasing planning certainty on these types of sites by allocating appropriate sites and listing these on the brownfield register, and granting Permission in Principle on specific sites, or preparing Local Development Orders.

2.3 Delivery of Affordable Housing

As expected the Draft Plan repeats the Mayor’s emphasis on the delivery of ‘genuinely’ affordable homes across London. The Draft Plan continues the ‘threshold approach’ introduced by the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG earlier this year, setting the initial thresholds at a minimum of 35% affordable housing on all sites, increasing to 50% on public sector land or relevant industrial sites. The level at which the thresholds are set is likely to be reviewed in 2021. 

The Draft Plan sets an eventual strategic aim of 50% of all new homes to be affordable.

The tenure split remains as per the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG published earlier this year (i.e. 30% low cost rented homes such as social rent and affordable rent, 30% intermediate products, including London Living Rent and London Shared Ownership, with the remaining 40% to be determined by the relevant borough), but with the clarification that it is assumed the remaining 40% will focus on low cost rented homes.

To achieve the strategic target of delivering 50% affordable homes, specific measures are proposed including the proposal for affordable housing providers, public sector land[owners, and strategic partners to enter into agreements with the Mayor to deliver a set level of affordable housing across their portfolio. For affordable housing providers and public sector land this is proposed at 50%, whilst it is proposed at 60% for other strategic partners. Taking a portfolio approach could have fundamental implications for where the delivery of affordable homes comes forward.

2.4 Housing Mix

The Draft Plan recommends that prescriptive housing mix targets for market and intermediate housing are removed from borough’s development plans. If this recommendation makes it into the final plan it could allow more scope for individual developers to put forward housing mixes based on their own market research, and presumably has the goal of allowing proposed housing mixes to respond more readily to changing market demands over time.  However, it recommends that schemes consisting of mainly 1 bedroom homes should still be resisted.

2.5 Density

As has been expected for some time, the density matrix has been scrapped. Instead, it will be expected that schemes delivering housing proposed over certain thresholds, dependent on the site’s PTAL[1], will be accompanied by a management plan. However, the Draft Plan makes clear that ‘the higher the density of a development, the greater the level of scrutiny that is required of its design, particularly the qualitative aspects.’ Despite removal of the matrix, the significant emphasis on measures of density in recent years will continue, with a range of new density measurements introduced[2] presumably with the aim of assessing density in a more consistent manner, particularly on larger sites.

2.6 Design

The Draft Plan also places significant emphasis on design, comprising a total of 13 key policies on the issue. Among these are steps to deliver ‘high quality design’, maintaining design quality through to a project’s completion and ensuring ‘local planning authorities using architect retention clauses in legal agreements where appropriate.’ The Draft Plan also provides guidance for making architecture more inclusive and accessible.

2.7 Car Parking

The Mayor’s agenda to improve air quality is played out in part through revised car parking standards in different locations, which will of course also have implications for the ability of schemes to optimise housing density. There is continued support for car-free development, including assuming car-free development as the starting point for all schemes in PTAL 5-6 areas, as well as PTAL4 areas in Inner London or Metropolitan or Major Town Centres. The maximum level of car parking provision expected will be up to 1.5 car parking spaces, only in the least accessible areas of PTAL 0-1 in Outer London; even in PTAL 0-1 areas in Inner London the expected car parking levels will be half of this.

In addition, it seems there will be significantly reduced levels of designated disabled persons parking bays expected, at a level of 1 space for 3% of dwellings.

2.9 Cycle Parking

The proposed cycle parking standards for housing will remain broadly similar, though the expected cycle parking provision for 1 bedroom homes will rise to 1.5 cycle parking spaces per dwelling. Though the change may seem minimal, in large-scale schemes, or regeneration areas in particular this could represent a significant increase in the proportion of land-take required for cycle parking, particular in central locations with a high proportion of 1 bedroom homes planned. This will also have implications for the design quality that can be achieved on particularly high density schemes, where striking a balance between provision of adequate cycle parking, and creation of lively active frontages facing onto public streets and spaces can already be a challenge.

The Mayor has also set out his intention to work with boroughs to introduced higher cycle parking standards in defined areas such as Mini Hollands, Liveable Neighbourhood or Opportunity Areas, through the use of SPDs where appropriate.

2.10 Build to Rent

There is continued recognition of the distinct economics of the build to rent development model and support for its delivery. The Draft Plan provides clarification on what will be considered to constitute Build to Rent, and therefore would be assessed against Build to Rent policies; the criteria includes a minimum threshold of 50 units, as well as that the homes are held as Build to Rent for at least 15 years under covenant, as well as around tenancy lengths, and management arrangements.

A threshold level of affordable housing has been introduced to provide an opportunity for Built to Rent schemes to take advantage of the Fast Track Route offered to Build for Sale schemes. In order for build to rent schemes to benefit from the ‘fast-track approach’ they must deliver a minimum of 35% affordable housing comprised of at least 30% London Living Rent, with the rest to be at discounts below market level, as agreed with the local authority. Schemes that qualify for the Fast Track Route will not need to provide a full viability assessment but will be subject the 15-year covenant and clawback given the Build to Rent policy approach to affordable housing.

2.11 Other Residential Accommodation

2.11.1. Older Person’s Housing

Policy H15 provides clarity on what types of older persons housing will be considered use class C3 or C2 - Sheltered accommodation and extra care accommodation is considered as being in Use Class C3. Residential nursing care accommodation is considered as being in Use Class C2 Annual borough benchmarks are set out in the plan for C3 class older persons housing.

2.11.2. Student Accommodation

Policy H17 on purpose built student accommodation includes a requirement for 35% of accommodation to be secured as affordable, which would need to be equal to or below 55% of the maximum income that a student could receive from the Government’s maintenance loan for that academic year. It also sets a strategic target of 3500 bed spaces per annum across London.

2.12 Fire Safety

In the aftermath of the tragic events at Grenfell earlier this year a new draft policy (Policy D11) is introduced requiring specific information to be submitted in a fire statement alongside all major applications to ensure fire safety. [RO2] 

3 What do HTA think about the Draft Plan?

3.1 Increased Affordable Housing Delivery

Finding a mechanism to increase the delivery of affordable housing is essential if we want to build a successful future for London but the latest Annual Monitoring Report published by the GLA confirms that the viability led approach of the past three years has produce affordable housing at an average of just 24% of conventional housing supply. Measures set in place by the GLA to make viability assessment more transparent is a very positive step in gaining the support for development from local communities and it seems likely that once the affordable housing requirements become established the impact will feed through to reduced land values. But for such a significant increase to happen without a short term drop in delivery, we expect there will need to be a significant increase in the grant available from the GLA, particularly if we are to see an increase in London Affordable Rent.

3.2 Increasing Overall Supply through Housing Delivery on Small Sites

We are hugely encouraged by the focus on small sites within the new London Plan. We have long campaigned in terms of the contribution that could be made by small sites - even gardens - within Outer London through our Supurbia work, so this the presumption in favour of small sites is a welcome change. In particular it is encouraging that local authorities are encouraged to develop design codes to ensure that suburban areas could intensify in a controlled fashion.

HTA Design LLP have demonstrated through their work on Supurbia that there is latent potential to deliver up to 700,000 additional homes in the Outer London suburbs on land that is simply not developed at sustainable densities. As such, we fully support the Mayor’s notion that large amounts of Green Belt do not need to be released to facilitate London’s growth and housing need. However, there are left over portions of green belt land within London that have become surrounded with transport infrastructure and other uses, that offer little biodiversity value and no access to green spaces for people, and it is important that these portions of land do not get protected at all cost. It is of utmost importance to very carefully approach what type of interventions would support healthy outcomes for London’s residents: as London’s existing fabric increases in density, we need to ensure accessibility for everyone to healthy, good quality green spaces.

3.3 Good Growth and Good Design

The continued emphasis on good design and good growth are welcomed. The move away from the density matrix to much more site specific accessibility consideration in lieu of density makes a lot of sense. We also support the introduction of management plans in instances where density levels proposed are high for PTAL ratings.

The requirement to include additional detail design information within a planning consent to secure high quality design is good but relies on having a resourced and skilled planning department to assess the additional detail and then ensure it is delivered. Whilst retaining the architect throughout is often a desirable mode of procurement, ensuring commitment from the developer in delivering the consented scheme is far more important, and for this the consented scheme must be realistic, deliverable and viable. It is hard to see how boroughs would be able to enforce retention of the architect through legal agreement.

The talents and experience of the Mayors Design Advocates would best be focused on review of strategic master-planning for wider city regions as there are already established design review panels such as DC CABE that have evolved to offer more productive design advice with a good understanding of the range of dynamics impacting on the development process. Many London borough councils have established their own Design Review Panels, which when properly managed in conjunction with a well-resourced planning department can add enormous value to the design of a project and provide additional support to democratically accountable local authorities. Creating a further review process could create conflicts in advice and increase the time required to get to a submission and potentially undermine the process of local planning. The Plan refers to good design and good planning being intrinsically linked – we fully agree with this statement – there is a balance.

4 What does this mean for your Projects?

If you have any further questions regarding the above and what it means for your schemes, please contact:
Riette Oosthuizen, Planning Partner

[1] Public Transport Accessibility Level

[2] All planning applications will be expected to clearly set out the following density measures: units per hectare, habitable rooms per hectare, bedrooms per hectare, bedspaces per hectare. For larger schemes ‘Floor Area Ratio’ (total GEA / site area), ‘Site Coverage Ratio’ (GEA of ground floors / site area) and maximum height (AOD) of each proposed building.