London mayor rows back on light-touch planning zones

The London mayor has pulled back from plans to drive housing development by stripping away planning controls in certain areas of the capital.

London mayor Boris Johnson (Photo By Stephen Lock/ i-Images)
London mayor Boris Johnson (Photo By Stephen Lock/ i-Images)

The Greater London Authority today announced its first nine designated housing zones, which will be given £260 million of loans and grants to accelerate delivery of 28,000 new homes by 2025.

The money is earmarked for projects including five station upgrades, five estate regeneration schemes and four new bridges.

But original plans to create light-touch planning regimes in the areas have so far not come to fruition.

Last week, the mayor gained powers through the Infrastructure Act to grant orders that would allow development of certain types to go ahead on specified sites within London without a planning application being made.

A joint Treasury and GLA statement, made last June, said that these mayoral development orders would give him the power to "remove planning obstacles" and speed up developments in housing zones.

It followed a speech in which chancellor George Osborne said that "councils will be required to put local development orders on over 90 per cent of brownfield sites that are suitable for housing" as part of an "urban planning revolution".

But, earlier this week, London deputy mayor for housing Richard Blakeway said that there were currently no plans to use the orders in the nine newly-announced zones.

"The orders were referred to as a tool that could be used if necessary," he said. "We have got proactive planning authorities, and it’s not been necessary to use the orders".

Instead, he said, the mayor would be encouraging authorities to draw up planning performance agreements, which set out a fixed schedule for application determination in return for a fee, that would apply to all the schemes in the zone. "This will give more planning certainty and ensure resources for planning," he said.

Officials also said that some boroughs were planning to set up separate planning committees for the zones.

However, Blakeway did not rule out using MDOs in the future. Another GLA official said they might be suited to sites that crossed a local authority boundary.

The zones are:

  • Abbey Wood and South Thamesmead (where mayor expects the funding to accelerate delivery of 1,512 homes)

  • Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Thamesmead (1,314)

  • Barking Town Centre (2,295)

  • Clapham Junction (5,356)

  • Heart of Harrow (5,294)

  • Hounslow Town Centre (3,478)

  • New Bermondsey (2,372)

  • Southall (4,345)

  • Tottenham (1,956)

According to GLA officials, the relevant partners have been informed of indicative funding allocations for each of the zones, and contracts now need to be finalised for the money to be drawn down. GLA assistant director for housing Jamie Ratcliff said that the contract agreement process would provide the opportunity for the introduction of PPAs to be formally agreed.

The mayor and chancellor have said that there will be 20 housing zones in London. Blakeway said that six more zones would be announced "very shortly", and he expected all 20 to be designated by the summer.

Some would be in more central locations, he said, involving boroughs "that traditionally are not expected to get involved in this sort of programme" .

Most of the 28,000 new homes, delivery of which will be supported by the nine zones, are already in the planning pipeline. Ratcliff said that around 5000 already have outline or full consent.

But he estimated that 8,500 of them were on sites that had not yet been allocated in a local plan. A total of 9,000 of the 28,000 are planned to be affordable, although the GLA was unable to detail the extent to which this number had been increased by zone funding.

Blakeway said: "We are significantly accelerating schemes. In every zone there is something extra happening that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We’ve been able to bring together all the different powers that the GLA group has in a way that will have an unbelievable impact in terms of regeneration".


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