Key issues

The London Plan is the Mayor of London’s over-arching strategic planning policy. Each borough’s local policy must conform with it.

Key features of the 2014 changes to the London Plan and major issues

[ “Further Alterations to the London Plan” FALP #FALP14 ] April 2014

The Just Space network of community groups is preparing responses to the Alterations. This note summarises some of the issues and debates.

The Mayor has chosen not to make a whole fresh London Plan but instead to make some “Amendments”. The main reason for making amendments is to try and cope with the new population projections which suggest London could have 9 million people by 2020 and 10 million by 2035.

In fact the plan admits that it cannot – even at its most optimistic – find space for all those extra people but it makes some big changes which could have damaging effects without doing much to solve the desperate housing affordability problem of London:

1. Housing targets for the major development sites across London (Opportunity Areas) have been jacked up from 233,000 to 300,000 but without any guarantees as to the proportions which will be in any sense “affordable”.

2. The rules governing density – designed to ensure that housing density is strictly tied to public transport accessibility and environmental capacity – are to be applied in a more “flexible” way and we are concerned that this will push land prices and housing prices up.

3. The Mayor has removed any prioritisation of meeting London’s most urgent housing needs – from people on low and middle incomes who can only afford what used to be called “social rents” and instead is focussing his efforts on maximising total housing output and, within that, housing to let at “affordable” rents or sold at sub-market prices, neither of which meet the needs of Londoners on low or even median incomes.

These measures risk fuelling the house-price and rental boom without solving the central housing problems.

Just Space will also be expressing concerns – as it has in past years – about the way in which the plan handles the economy of London, focussing on high “growth” sectors at the expense of the unpaid and under-paid branches of activity and their needs for improved productivity, pay and space to operate. Many of the groups in Just Space report that rapid urban change threatens the economy we actually have – diverse, multi-ethnic and local – in the creation of space for corporate activity.

Another controversial part of the Alterations arises from the Mayor’s U-Turn on retailing. Previous plans envisaged continuing strong growth of shopping space but the Alterations now consider that the need for more retail space will be much reduced. Just Space doubts whether the evidence pays sufficient attention to the strength of non-corporate retail activity in many London centres. The plan proposes to concentrate the modest new retail building in Central London, the Westfields and a few other mega-centres and expects quite a lot of shrinkage to occur in other centres – most of the ordinary town centres of London. The Alterations seek to take advantage of this shrinking retail sector by promoting comprehensive redevelopment of many centres to fit in more high density housing. There is strong evidence, however, that this will lead in many cases to the extinction of many retail and non-retail service jobs in and around town centres, thus increasing the need to travel (to work and for services) and undermining one of the Plan’s strongest features: the Lifetime Neighbourhood.

London, 7 April 2014