London mayor sets himself a formidable task, by Richard Garlick

The housing shortage in London is so acute that anything other than a radical new London Plan would be inadequate. And the document published this week by the London mayor certainly does not disappoint in terms of the scale of its ambition.

Shifting the housing target from 42,000 to 65,000 units a year from 2019-29 marks a huge leap in aspiration. But the big question is whether the draft plan contains policies that make the target attainable, particularly as the mayor is proposing green belt protections that are if anything even tougher than they are now.

Four key measures are put forward in the draft plan to help achieve this step change.

The first is a drive to push up housing density, with maximum density restrictions being scrapped, and the mayor intending to take a view on the density of all schemes of 150 homes or more that are referred to him.

Winning public and political support for higher densities will be challenging, as deputy mayor for housing Jamie Murray has already acknowledged. Outer boroughs for whom dense housing typologies are currently more or less unknown will need to be persuaded to accept them if the target is to be met. For this to be done in ways that are acceptable to local communities, planners and developers will often need to find high density alternatives to tower blocks. Skyscrapers have a role to play in the capital, but other forms of dense accommodation are critical.

Secondly, the mayor is encouraging co-location of industrial and residential development on strategic industrial land, as long as there is no net loss of industrial floorspace. This may open up new opportunities for residential development, but mixed industrial and residential use will be a step into the unknown for most developers and planners in the capital.

Thirdly, Khan wants a new focus on delivering housing on sites capable of accommodating 25 homes or fewer, with boroughs given targets to deliver homes on such sites, and asked to apply "a presumption in favour" of certain types of small housing development, including "infill development on vacant or underused sites".

Finally, the mayor is recognising co-living developments, in which residents have their own bedrooms and bathrooms but share living space, as legitimate contributors to meeting housing need. Three bedrooms in a co-living scheme would chalk one home off a borough’s housing requirements, according to the draft plan.

All of the measures require significant changes in the way that housing development is planned and delivered in London. That is as it should be - the status quo is not going to solve London’s housing shortage. But the task the mayor has set himself is formidable.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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