Labour leader defends Plan

Following our letter of 3 February asking members of the London Assembly to reject the Plan (our letter is the previous post here), we received a prompt reply on 5 February from Nicky Gavron, planning spokesperson for the Labour group of AMs. She writes:

Thank you for your recent email regarding the upcoming Plenary Session at the London Assembly to approve the Mayor of London’s new London Plan. [1000h at City Hall, Thursday 6 February, open to all – ed]

Writing and implementing the London Plan is one of the most significant powers the Mayor has, and as Assembly Members our responsibility to scrutinise and approve the plan

As Planning Spokesperson for the Labour Group on the Assembly, I am responding to the points you raised with my colleagues below.

Procedure

Although the Assembly is considering this Plan before the final version, with any amendments from the Secretary of State, is available, one of the primary responsibilities of the Assembly is to scrutinise the work of the Mayor, and the version we are considering on Thursday is the London Plan as the Mayor intends. It means we can scrutinise the Mayor’s policies and decisions, rather than allow issues to be deflected to the Secretary of State.

The Assembly has also agreed that if/when the Secretary of State does respond to the Intend to Publish version of the plan with significant revisions, we will hold a further session to scrutinise the impact of any changes. We have also received legal advice that the relevant legislation does not allow for the Assembly to reject directions made by the Secretary of State to the Plan.

Policy

The London Assembly Labour Group has worked now over two and a half years to challenge the Mayor and his team, with views from community groups, constituents and our own research, to improve the Plan at each stage of consultation. Through our work, we have secured significant improvements to policies including: affordable housing, family-sized housing, industrial land, biodiversity assessments, air quality mitigation and waste capacity.

The Mayor’s Plan sets out a bold vision to deliver sustainable economic growth for London in the coming 20 years, and will help the city tackle some of the biggest challenges we face, not least the housing crisis and the climate emergency. We do not believe that it is a perfect plan, but it is a significant step forward from the policies of the previous Mayor – which delivered record low numbers of social housing – and the London Assembly Labour Group will continue to pressure the Mayor so that any supplementary guidance and revisions to the plan best meet the needs of all Londoners. We will continue to hold the Mayor to account and monitor the delivery of development

The Plan seeks to deliver high levels of affordable housing to meet London’s urgent needs, and sets a strategic target of 50% of all homes to be affordable, of which up to 70% should be at social rent levels – matching the ambition set out in the first London Plan in 2004, since lost by the last Mayor. We pushed the Mayor to increase this further to reflect the massive and urgent need for social housing in London, and will continue to make this case in the coming months and years.

The new Plan introduces many policies which will protect existing social and other types of low cost housing. Policy H8 makes clear that all alternative options should be considered in full before the demolition of existing affordable homes. Any social rent homes that are demolished must be re-provided with the same or increased floorspace, and in order to receive Mayoral support, there must be a ballot of residents ahead of any estate demolition, in line with the Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, implemented in 2018.

The Plan must also be seen in the context of non-planning and national Government policies. The planning system alone cannot deliver the levels of social housing we need. The Mayor has joined many others to state that the current “cross-subsidy” model – whereby private sale developments fund affordable housing through Section 106 – is broken and will never deliver what we need in London.

Direct grant funding is responsible for the majority of affordable housing in London, but grant has been cut considerably since 2010. The Mayor has secured £4.82 billion from Government over five years, and has delivered a record number of affordable housing starts since City Hall took responsibility for this in 2012. But in order to build what London needs would require £4.9 billion per year in funding from Government, seven times what London currently gets. Furthermore, councils and the Mayor are hampered in their efforts by the continuation of the Right to Buy, which over 40 years has drained London of much need council homes. Since the Government “reinvigorated” Right to Buy in 2012-13, councils have been forced to sell more homes than new social homes have been built in London.

The first Good Growth objective is about building strong and inclusive communities and talks specifically about tackling inequalities and building a more inclusive city. Independent Planning Inspectors agreed that the Plan’s policies will tackle the disadvantages faced by groups with protected characteristics, and the Plan implements much better policies for marginalised groups, including Gypsies and Travellers. The Mayor has resisted Government and introduced a more progressive and encompassing definition of this group to ensure that the community’s needs are properly assessed. The Mayor will lead a new London-wide needs assessment of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation, and ensure that new targets are set to all boroughs. In addition, 10% of all new homes should be fully wheelchair accessible, and all others should be accessible and adaptable for people with disabilities.

The London Assembly Labour Group has worked to improve the industrial land policies of the new Plan to ensure better protections for “behind the high streets” light-industrial premises and workspaces. These are the kind of SMEs that ensure London thrives, but are often “non-designated” industrial sites, which makes up 36% of all industrial land in London. The Plan has been strengthened to better protect these sites from residential development, as part of an overall “no net loss” approach to industrial land across the city. The Plan also sets out London-wide policies on affordable workspace for the first time, encouraging boroughs to secure below market-rate workspace for community groups, charities and social enterprises.

The Plan seeks to meet the Mayor’s target for London to be 50% green by setting requirements for development proposals to incorporate green infrastructure, achieve biodiversity net gain, avoid damaging mature woodlands and protect Metropolitan Open Land and Green Belt. The Labour Group and the Mayor have stood firm in protecting green belt designations, despite Government objections. This is one of the key areas of disagreement between the Mayor and the Government. Biodiversity net gain, a policy adopted early on in the development of this London Plan, has now been brought forward at national level. Labour Group secured an improvement in the Plan by noting that biodiversity net gain must be achieved within a limited distance from the original loss.

The Plan builds on the Mayor’s targets to clean up London’s air, we secured a requirement for all development proposals to be at least air quality neutral as well as major developments being air quality positive, i.e. improving London’s air quality. In practice, this means they must use cleaner heating technologies that do not emit toxic fumes, promote clean travel and contain green infrastructure.

The Plan contains some of the most ambitious energy efficiency policies of any planning policy across the country. The Mayor has set a requirement for new developments to reduce their carbon emissions by 35% above what is required by current buildings regulations, in large part through energy efficiency measures. This means that London’s new buildings will be some of the most affordable to run in the country. Furthermore, by promoting the uptake of new low- and zero-carbon heating technologies, the Plan is helping to prepare the industry to fully decarbonise heat, which has historically been harder to decarbonise than electricity. Major developments are required to offset the rest of their operational carbon by contributing cash sums to local funds. This is helping to move London towards meeting the Mayor’s target to be net zero-carbon by 2030 and zero-carbon by 2050.

[end]. Just Space letter, to which this is a reply.