Planning with The (re-elected) London Mayor

By Richard Anderson

As of 9 May, Sadiq Khan has entered his second term as London Mayor.  Aside from some headline grabbing areas of control such as transport (TfL), policing, fire and the figurehead of being Mayor himself, one area where his control is perhaps innocuous from those not in the development industry is that of town, or in his case, city planning.

Proudly brandishing the London Plan (finalised and approved just weeks before his re-election) he has set a planning blueprint alongside which the 32 London Boroughs, 1 Corporation (City of London) and 2 Development Corporations must tailor their own Local Plans.  This is the dispensation of spatial and sector specific advice which it is hoped will result in effectively planned residential and business communities across the capital.

Whilst the dispensation of advice is a useful tool to have, the Mayor is also armed with the ability to at least advise/influence and at most actually determine “strategic” planning applications, e.g. more than 150 residential units or any building more than 30m high and outside the City of London.

In the run up to the election, when it came to planning/development, The Mayor spelt out 10 planning pledges in his 102-page manifesto to:

  1.  “review how to further involve local communities in the planning decisions that affect them”
  2. “support tall buildings where they are safe, appropriately located and designed to a high quality”
  3. “push the Government to devolve new ‘use it or lose it’ [housing delivery] powers”
  4. ensure “that regeneration projects funded by City Hall contribute to a more socially integrated London”, and that “valuable community cultural and night-time assets aren’t lost to development, planning changes or the impacts of the pandemic”
  5. commit his new affordable homes programme “to building a majority of homes at social rent”, and implement the strategic target in the recently published London Plan “for 50 per cent of all new homes to be genuinely affordable”.
  6. “build more affordable homes on surplus public land”, by maximising “the number of these homes being built on land owned by the GLA”
  7. set a target for 10,000 new council homes in the capital, which will “explore the creation of a new ‘right to buy back’ fund” for homes previously sold through right-to-buy
  8. use his planning powers to ensure every new development is connected with full fibre 
  9. “maximise the number of defibrillators in place across the city” through use of planning powers
  10. “explore opportunities to set up a leading centre which will accelerate the piloting of innovative and deep approaches to retrofitting properties” (Building Standards)

That is a healthy list! 

Prior to the election I had the pleasure of attending a debate with The Mayor which, Chaired by the London Chamber of Commerce, was an any questions/any subject format exploring how the Mayor intended to use his powers and influence if elected.  I was able to ask The Mayor how, pre-Covid, when pressure was (rightly) being put on outer London Boroughs to soak up more of the demand for housing, further pressure on the outer Boroughs, post-Covid, may come from volume house builders wishing to re-design their offer to include larger rooms, larger gardens, additional work/study rooms.  How did he see these matters being weighed up by his town planning team?

A fairly frank, authoritative and (naturally!) politically balanced response resulted (in part)…

Cracking question Richard – when I speak to town planners one of the frustrations they have is the lack of certainty, what they want to know is what are the rules of the game so that you can advise your clients and work forward on decent schemes, now you have the certainty of the London Plan that is great news. You raise another really important issue, in relation to what is the post Covid world going to be like? And if I am honest Richard, honestly nobody knows so it is a very brave town planning consultant that starts advising now on the base of schemes, big schemes going forward because people’s’ views are changing.”

“It is important that we just don’t inadvertently rush into changing our planning rules by having to produce new SPG’s. We are clear though in City Hall that we do particularly want to continue having good quality and well-designed homes, and I know your team does that.”

On a practical note, he went on to outline how City Hall plan to encourage more flexible locational workplaces post Covid …

“A second issue we are doing Richard, is looking at the possibility of talking to the City of London about whether there are a hub and spokes model in relation to businesses who are based in the heart of London, so people who want to leave their home to work but don’t want to go to Zone 1 could have a shared work space in Zones 4 or and 5. And so some of the work we are doing not just with the City of London but with other employers as well, because there are opportunities Richard to have shared workspaces in Zones 4 and 5 , you’ll know where historically it has just been Zones 1 and 2 for obvious reasons. So that is why I am saying watch this space. The work we are doing, the work that Gerald Eve, LSE and Arup are doing for us will be quite instrumental Richard because they have been speaking to Parisians and New Yorkers as well about what they have learnt, because they are a bit ahead of us as the virus got there first.”

Whilst the Mayor advised that it is only a “very brave town planning consultant that starts advising now on the base of schemes, big schemes going forward because peoples’ views are changing,” this will have to be a brave Mayoralty if it is to seek to deliver the 10 pledges in 4 years as no doubt his electorate’s views begin to change also.

To watch the full interview click below:

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