Blog: 11 December 2017Khan suburbia deal with the London Plan?

Iain Painting

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Iain Painting

Planning Director

London office

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At last the London Plan has been published, with the evidence base following a couple of days later.

This is no review or tweaking of the previous iteration but a wholesale rewrite, although much will remain familiar: SIL and Opportunity Areas for example.

Many will say ‘And so what? The Mayor has already taken his Housing SPD as development plan policy in any event’ and expect the Mayor to attach similar ‘excessive’ weight to his draft plan.

There is however much to commend in this iteration of London’s Plan for the future - identifying the burgeoning level of need and driving forward transport initiatives upon which our city is dependent as well as the intention to work with Councils outside London is long overdue. The focus on growth, centred around strategic transport interventions is right. I have long argued that policies should seek to respond to ‘step change’ events, to derive the benefits that they can facilitate.  In 2016, we published a review of London’s suburban town centres, with PTAL mapped against average household density - a crude comparison perhaps but nonetheless, it did serve to show the uncapitalised upon capacity of our suburban centres.

There is however, an inherent tension in the plan. As with all policies, their effectiveness in achieving the stated objective is not only a function of their drafting but also their application.

London is ‘land locked’. The Mayor’s restating of ‘no green belt review’ effectively results in the supply of land being finite. Addressing London’s development need is therefore reliant upon densification and change of use. Lack of supply results in increase in pricing, with the only source of ‘additional land’ outside of London or for those old enough, ROSEland (eg Rest of the South East) now Wider South East (WSE).

Depending on your perspective, the Mayor has declared war on the suburbs or, has at the very least created the platform for a renaissance within them. Re-ordering of the role of key suburban centres in relation to central London, is long overdue and would do much to optimise existing capacity of infrastructure.

At another level however, it may be seen as erosion of the suburban townscape character, to be resisted by those who are not politically aligned to the Mayor. Residential parking standards have long been the tool by which outer London Boroughs resisted density. The removal of the Sustainable Residential Quality matrix in this iteration is lamentable though, as this removes one of the clear guides as to the where the starting point ‘of the conversation’ should be.

What the key diagrams point to is the absurdity of the absence of strategic planning in the south east. The impacts and growth opportunities presented by Crossrail, for example, do not stop at the boundary of London Boroughs. Heathrow expansion should likewise be planned strategically with the London Borough plus Spelthorne, Runneymede, Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough and others. The government has repeatedly stated that a return to regional plans is not on the agenda, but a formal mechanism over a Duty to inform would surely enable us to capitalise on opportunities more successfully.

On a detailed note, one client likened the cycle of government to an accordion player: centralisation, decentralisation, centralisation, decentralisation and so on……

The level of detail and prescription is high. We are clearly in a period of policy centralisation in London with decentralisation outside!  Whether it is excessive depends upon your views as to the role of spatial development strategy versus development management and how best to secure the strategic aims and objectives.

Now that is a conversation….

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