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M20 Housing on small sites, policy H2
Key points from the morning:
- Minor changes issued by GLA yesterday meant participants didn’t have enough time to formulate responses
- Small sites are a key part of GLA new housing policy, with a 1% growth target which is based from no empirical research but partly judgement and partly choice.
- In relation to M20, question a, participants raised concerns about this 1% growth target:
- 1% based on an assumption that 1 in 5 properties sold will increase their units, this is based on no evidence and is unrealistic
- 1% is a subjective choice by the GLA, whereas paragraph 48 of the national planning policy says evidence must be proportionate and compelling
- GLA say 1% is reasonable but it has a profound effect on output. In many boroughs this output increase in unachievable considering current rates of development.
- Therefore, the London wide modelling does not work in this instance as the targets are unachievable in many places
- Citizens have experienced the results of small-scale intensification without adequate service provision as negative
- In discussion of the PTAL, participants raised concerns at its lack of engagement with communities:
- General agreement that the PTAL is a good starting off point to identify areas which lack accessibility but needs a more nuanced approach which examines specific differences and development levels
The following notes from the morning session follow a chronological order, and have tried to be comprehensive, however, some comments have been excluded to aid in representing how the flow of discussion took place. The numberings therefore follow how discussions played out.
- The panel welcomed early comments from participants
- Generally, participants commented on the minor changes that were received yesterday (12/02/19), stating that participants have not had enough time to adequately read and formulate comments on these changes to policy H2.
- GLA: a lengthy discussion of policy H2, responding to some of the written responses from participants. London has a housing crisis so more homes are needed, but must ensure good growth.
- Whilst the previous London plan focused on large sites the focus is now on the important role small sites must play. Push on small sites represents fundamentally different approach to previous plans.
- Need more SME builders to deliver small site goals
- This approach will deliver more mixed communities. For example, older people can downsize and stay in local community. Opens up more opportunities to open up affordable housing.
- People’s concerns include:
- accessibility of these sites? However, we’re talking about planning in a big city that is already well connected
- Character concerns? The character of London has always evolved, and will continue to do so
- Modelling concerns. Modelled approach provides spatial logic and unbiased approach.
- In summary, small sites development is a new way of working, encouraging development in areas that haven’t experienced development in recent years. Barriers to widespread use of small sites are not economic or technological but deliberate policy choices and lack of focus on this form of supply in the past.
- Panel: Please discuss recent minor changes made
- GLA: the changes involved conservation area changes, and a removed of more detailed points relating to other policies in the London plan being removed.
a) Is modelling of delivery from small sites in the SHLAA justified, including reliance on PTALS?
The first part of this discussion was focused on modelling, not PTALs.
Discussion between the panel and the GLA only:
- Panel: In terms of the modelling I am aware of concerns by boroughs on the way the methodology came about, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve got enough information to reach a view on that. However, paragraph 48 talks about the need to have a windfall allowance, what is your view about what you’ve done in relation to paragraph 48 and the windfall allowance?
- GLA: the modelling was based on projected future trends, and historic delivery. What we are unable to rely on is the historic delivery rate is because we will be going forward on the new policy. So it was a combination.
- Panel: So because of what happened in the past, and what will happen in the future, there is compelling evidence for paragraph 48?
- GLA: Yes
- Panel: Have there been case studies to test it?
- GLA: No, we based it on our general understanding.
- Panel: Small sites have been set as schemes of less than 25 units or under 0.25 hectares. Why have these numbers been chosen? The national policy is less than 10 homes,
- GLA: the SHLAA has used 0.25 hectares for a while. For the 25 – we did consider a number of different thresholds. We thought that 10 would act as a ceiling to development, and larger than 25 we thought there would start being greater impacts on the areas than a small site should.
- Panel: You didn’t include a source on the allowance on the intensification of flats. Why?
- GLA: The intensification of flats would usually come under large sites. We have already removed houses that have already been converted into flats from the modelling. But, we considered that flats are much more complicated for the modelling. We would support intensification of flats, and if that capacity exists that would help boroughs to reach their targets.
- Panel: So intensification of flats wasn’t included but that doesn’t mean its precluded from developments?
- GLA: yes.
- Panel: Where does the 1% growth assumption used generally (not in conservation areas) come from? In SHLAA it says it’s a reasonable estimate, but I’ve seen others saying it should be lower.
- GLA: When determining the rate of growth we were careful that it shouldn’t be so high as to disrupt the character of the neighbourhood, but couldn’t rely on an unrealistic housing growth. So, we thought the 1% was realistic given the availability of stock and the appetite of small builders in terms of growth of their business, and the rate of growth to serve the population to fill those homes. We thought that 1% represents a fairly modest rate of growth. We were aware of the undesirability of having a low growth rate, that would hinder London’s ability to meet London’s growth needs.
- Panel: So, the 1% figure was partly a policy choice, partly a judgement, not based on empirical evidence?
- GLA: Yes.
- Panel: Some criticisms say that the 1% growth rate doesn’t make allowances for boroughs, for example that it shouldn’t include garden land. What do you say to this?
- GLA: we would say the intensification figures are robust, based on a pan London sample to increase sample size. I would argue we haven’t included garden land in the intensification factor.
The panel then opened up the discussion to the floor, regarding concerns about modelling.
- Panel: Any other questions about modelling?
- London Forum: General deep concerns about these policies. But on the question of the assumption of the 1%, you justify that on the basis that 5% of properties are sold each year. But the 1% suggests that 1 in 5 properties sold involves an increase in the number of units. Sounds reasonable, but there is no evidence of that. Most sales involve adjustment of the property, or an extension of the property, but not necessarily an increase in units.
- CPRE: In relation to open space and modelling, clarification in relation to general public open space and how this has been taken into account in the modelling process.
- London Borough of Islington: Generally in support of the policy. Significant delivery of small sites is deliverable even when there are seemingly lots of constraints. We wanted to come along and provide support. Linking delivery to past trends isn’t going to cut it anymore to meet future needs, so in my mind this is a good approach that enforces a proactive mindset in other boroughs.
- SW London: It was heard the 1% was a subjective judgement of the GLA, we think it should be formed by evidence not judgement. This same argument applies to conservation areas, why 0.25%? The GLA say that 1% is reasonable but it has a profound effect on the output, we think it should be justified by robust evidence. Additionally, terraced and semi-detached houses should not be modelled in the same category; a more nuanced approach was required to deliver the notional capacity and it would’ve given a more realistic output. Moreover, we have a large social housing estate, totally unsuitable to deliver what policy H2 expects. We are not anti-growth, we accept the responsibility, but when a new housing target is released, we must objectively assess it, and it is not possible to reach this.
- Havering: We have got to question if the 1% growth assumption is realistic. It’s too large. No evidence that 1% will happen. When the numbers are actually crunched, the outputs are undeliverable
- Bexley: Must reflect on what a ‘modest’ target actually means. Across London it would mean a 6-fold increase would be required. In Bexley, a 5-fold. If you look at applications for small sites we would need to more than double the small sites applications, and then approve them all. Our policies are permissive currently. We have done an analysis on our policies, to show that our policies are permissive in relation to what the draft London Plan sets out as permissive local policies. In terms of the 1%, it would be interesting to know what the historic growth rate is. In Bexley, it is 0.2% currently, so we would need a 5-fold increase in our small sites almost immediately. Additionally, the methodology emerged after the large sites figure was found. The 1% figure covers the gap to meet building need, that’s not evidence, that’s reverse engineering
- West London Alliance: it is important to look at the scale of change these numbers envisage. A 238% increase on historic delivery. Paragraph 48 of national planning policy says evidence needs to be proportionate and compelling. The evidence here is not, therefore this is not sound.
- London Tennants Association: Whilst Islington council may see their small site development strategies as successful, citizens have seen the results of intensification as negative. There is a backlog of needs for social rented homes which has gone unmentioned in this strategy of endless subdivision of units. How does this contribute to the actual needs of Londoners?
GLA: We overstated the 5% churn in relation to 1% growth. Inner London figures haven’t changed as much as outer London as much of the intensification has already happened/is happening. We need to meet the needs of overcrowding and homelessness. The policy approach is based on robust evidence base.
- West London Alliance: Lack of evidence on change in relation to new planning environment. No evidence or engagement with homeowners.
- Bexley: Agree- householders do not directly engage with policy.
- London Forum: 1 in 5 homeowners are not going to divide their unit. This is something developers do, not normal homeowners. To intensify/build additional units into your home you need to have somewhere else to live through the building process and most homeowners do not have that
The Panel then moved on to discuss PTAL parameters directly.
- TFL: 800m from transport is conservative, in an analysis of London residents and use of transport most 800m is walked. Acknowledge that PTAL has limitations, and are trying to work with these limitations as alternatives would also be limited. PTAL in practice will vary between and within areas.
- NHS: Worried about access to social infrastructure
- Pettswood: PTAL assumes you use the transport you live near to and this is unrealistic; many will drive
- London Forum: PTAL is good at scoping the areas where development couldtake place, by looking at average accessibility, but needs more engagement.
- West London Alliance: PTAL should be a starting point for a more nuanced approach which considers development levels by go beyond London wide modelling to look at specific differences
- Just Space: Spirit of small sites policy should be linked with lifetime neighbourhoods. Investment in local social infrastructure as well as just housing supply brings a number of benefits whilst coping with increasing pressure.
- Hadley wood: PTAL needs to consider differences between inner and outer London – different consequences of lack of accessibility
Morning notes above from Zoe Rasbash and Lily Downes. Afternoon session below from Jenny Robinson.
During the session, the Inspector raised a number of questions of the GLA directly, and other topics attracted attention from London Borough representatives, who were there in force.
Is there nothing new in this policy?
GLA argued the policy is needed to encourage boroughs to proactively identify and bring forward new sites. Certainty, with design codes and an SPG on design will bring forward more development. South London argued that the policy was simply replicating existing tools which were already being used (meaning a step change in delivery was unrealistic). Evidence concerning how current borough policies impede small site development was cited but contested that it had not been made available (except in a press release).
Difficulties of bringing forward small siteswas an issue raised at length by London Boroughs and London First. Concern that residents might oppose intensification, landowners might be unwilling to bring forward properties, that it takes a disproportionately large amount of planning time to bring applications forward (small developers not necessarily experienced or working with experienced architects); that boroughs do not have the resources to undertake detailed design code work, and do not have the capacity for additional planning application work (GLA noted that the policy could yield 30 applications per year for Sutton, for example). Outer boroughs felt their circumstances were very different from that of eg Islington where this strategy has yielded considerable proportion of the targets (50% delivery 2005-18). Islington noted that outer boroughs2should accommodate change and take the communities on journey with them. Proper design codes should mean development did not disturb local conservation areas. Concern was expressed that undeliverable targets could have an adverse effect on the boroughs and the GLA through the anticipated Housing Delivery test and its consequences. The example of Croydon was noted where considerable effort had already been undertaken on design codes and small sites, but the increased targets from what has been delivered (592) to 1500 are unrealistic to achieve. The GLA observed on this that the new policies there had not yet had time to have an impact.
Viability of development and in relation to affordable housing: The GLA has an addendum which tests viability which they suggest exists on most sites (less viable on low value sites), and talking to small and medium developers have identified an appetite for development. A study put forward by some of the boroughs (undertaken by JLL) which shows challenges on viability was contested by GLA as assuming relatively high profits for developers (12% on affordable, 18% on private as well as assuming a 60/40 social rent -Intermediate split, which could be adjusted to have less social rent to increase viability. JLL speaker used the telling phrase “…market prices paid for land do not leave space for affordable units.” Enfield argued that small sites overrule market forces in terms of expected land value – sites are not currently at the £7000/m2level, more like 4-5000. Debate on land value and viability, importance of developing close to transport nodes where values will be higher. Enfield noted there was no principle of CPO for this policy, to resolve issues of multiple landownership. Islington stated that they took 50-60k per unit in affordable contributions on sites of 1-9 houses. Viability evidence could justify lower payment in exceptional cases. Would like discretion on when to accept payment (commencement or completion).
Availability of sites and feasibility of the step-change in delivery required. The GLA said they were going to monitor this very closely. A lot would be windfall not allocated sites. GLA felt that with clearer signalling they can incentivise the boroughs.
London First expressed support for the strategy, but were concerned about deliverability because the housing target relied overly on targets for small sites. They spoke on behalf of their members (being small and large developers, housing associations) and pointed out that small applications are time intensive, with many neighbourly issues, impact on neighbours, only 50% of land?home-owners want housing in their area – they saw the need to support London Boroughs to resist the social and cultural issues behind this opposition. Overall they felt that relying on small sites for this level of delivery was too risky and that a Plan B was needed. They later expressed support for contributions to affordable housing from sites less than ten units, but observed there was less opportunity to cross-subsidise at this scale for Housing associations and raised viability issues and the need for more grant.
Community Voices: London Forum expressed concern regarding whether boroughs had the necessary skills and resources to deliver; they felt this policy weakened the role of Neighbourhood Plans, and had an issue with the removal of constraints on what London Boroughs had to consider (presumption in favour of developing small sites?). Affordable housing delivery was supported but this was not (and should be) focussed on low cost rent which is at least 47% of housing need. The Further minor suggested changes have weakened the framework for this. London Tenants Federation made a strong statement regarding how community led developments on small sites have successfully brought forward social rented housing with genuine community benefits. They noted the generous green spaces of some social housing estates and that there were TMOs who were interested in bringing forward community led developments, as well as CLTs such as Peach, Russ, Phoenix? They proposed specific wording to increase policy support for community, social rent and self-build. LTF also stated that they support policy H2(h) requiring contributions from all developers to affordable housing – this could be off-site contributions. Not seeking affordable housing from these sites when they will make a large contribution to future housing supply would be to lose out on a lot of affordable. Pat argued that there was no direct correlation between viability and the size of the development. Michael Bach of London Forum suggested London was always ahead of the national policy on requiring affordable from smaller developments. Just Space wished to make a comment on the Interim Period, but the Inspector refused this. Striking out policy H2 (h) JS argued would lose 1000s of homes for social rent, and a number of boroughs already take contributions from developments less than 10 houses, inclding Islington LB who were there and testified. In the concluding discussion London Forum (Bach) made the point that the London Plan’s Good growth ambitions, and the need to create communities, means that what is needed is the right development in the right places – areas or locations. Social infrastructure provision needs to inform decisions about developments and a mapping of these facilities should be undertaken to guide where there is capacity for development.
London Assembly planning committee: felt the targets were more likely to be met if there was flexibility not to meet a certain proportion on small sites, which they acknowledged were difficult to bring forward.
The relationship between causing unacceptable harm and the benefit from building housing [what kind of housing constitutes such a public benefit?] was raised at length by LB Bromley, who had done a study on appeals against refusing planning approval – those they had successfully contested approved recognition of harms such as overbearing impact on gardens, reduced light, discordant features. The presumption being introduced would muddy the waters on making judgements about harm vs public benefit. The GLA argued that the design codes would assist with making this decision.
The Inspector raised at the end the possibility of adopting different ways of setting targets: SHLAA, trend based (as boroughs argued for more realistic setting of targets based on what had been achieved historically), policy-led approach based on identifying sites and local feasibility.
Inspector asked about concern that was expressed regarding issues of net loss of green cover, and need to reprovide – could inhibit delivery of housing? GLA stated that major developments had to conform to LP policy, for small sites no net loss could be accommodated through measures like trees and green roofs, or offset in area through greening in area eg tree planting. An SPG is planned on this.
It was noted that so many MSCs had now been made to the policy it had become opaque and hard to read!
Was the presumption of development on small sites necessary or justified? The GLA is seeking to make best use of land. The MSCs have adjusted the policy to mimic PD rights eg not develop on more than 50% of garden, design codes to ensure overlooking can be accommodated. Some boroughs have policies to protect gardens – these might be out of kilter with London Plan, and the presumption of development will prevail. The Inspector refused to hear any discussion of this as he had written comments from participants. He also suggested he did not want to hear any further discussion on affordable housing.
House Builders Federation: The Mayor’s approach to assessing capacity is novel – normally this needs to be based on identifying specific sites – unusual to adjust policy to expect a greater trend in windfall supply, which has not been identified. The NPPF expects boroughs to identify more small sites, but can you rely on the high level assessment in the London Plan to bring forward this increase? HBF support the policy but need specific sites to be identified for development.
Morning notes from Zoe Rasbash and Lily Downes. Afternoon session from Jenny Robinson.