Interview: London deputy mayors Jules Pipe and James Murray on the draft London Plan

At the launch of the new draft London Plan this week, John Geoghegan spoke to the two deputy mayors with planning responsibilities about some of the key proposals in the document.

Deputy mayors, James Murray and Jules Pipe
Deputy mayors, James Murray and Jules Pipe

Jules Pipe, London's deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills:

Q: How will the new London Plan policy on density differ from the current one?

A: "The old London Plan had density ranges for different locations – for inner and outer London. It was quite simplistic, and sometimes people didn’t stick to it if they could make the case. So actually we are just taking that principle further, and saying: ‘Make the case for what the density should be, based on its site-specific location, its proximity to transport links, and good design quality.’

"We are not saying that everything has to be massively tall and room sizes should be smaller, because those standards are still in place, but use those three factors to optimise the amount of density you can get on a site.

"For example, if a site near a high street comes forward, instead of building two or three executive homes on it at very low density, think: ‘What can we get on there that fits with the locality, that respects the fact that if it’s near a tube station or good bus links?’ It’s not an invitation to over-develop and cram things in, but it is an expectation to optimise the opportunity."

Q: Would it be up to developers and councils to agree an appropriate density?

A: "Yes. There are figures in there that says it should come under greater design scrutiny if it exceeds a certain level but they’re not limits. If it’s over this, we think it should be subject to greater design scrutiny. Anything over 150 homes or above 30m high would be referred to the mayor.

Q: Would boroughs be free to go as high as they like?

A: "If locally they feel it fits with their local plan, which has to conform to the London Plan when they renew it."

Q: How does the draft London Plan encourage more housing on smaller sites?

A: "There are targets [for smaller sites] in the plan for each borough. Boroughs have always produced windfall [smaller] sites every year. Mainly it’s been inner London [boroughs], which is extraordinary given the density already there. But inner London already has a good supply of those smaller sites. So the plan is to widen that expectation so outer London ought to be thinking about them as well."

Q: Will there be Geater London Authority support for outer London boroughs to meet their higher housing targets?

A: "We always want to work very closely with the boroughs.  One of the practical interventions we are making is Public Practice, which is a social enterprise that’s going to help place built environment professionals, particularly planners and architects, in boroughs. Currently, they struggle to recruit them. If needs must, they have to employ expensive agency staff. Hopefully, through this social enterprise, they can start to have a supply of quality planners and built environment practitioners to do the work in boroughs."

James Murray, London's deputy mayor for housing:

Q: How would the new density policy be enforced by the mayor?

A: "Firstly, every borough’s own planning policies should be in conformity with the London Plan.

There are then some schemes that are above the referrable threshold, where the mayor would have a view on it when it’s referred to him. So if we’re referred a scheme and we don’t think it’s optimised the density, that would go back as a comment from the mayor on the planning application."

Q: How does the mayor plan to work with authorities in the wider South East?

A: "The real strength we can have is making common cause around investment, for instance in infrastructure, particularly transport. It’s not ‘either-or’, it’s about all of us building as many homes as possible. Actually having that investment, particularly in transport infrastructure, is really vital for us and the wider South East to build new homes. For example, Crossrail 2 will allow for 200,000 new homes. A lot of them are in London, but a lot of them are outside London as well. I think we have real common cause with the greater South East in arguing for greater investment from government. Myself, Jules Pipe and GLA officers spend a lot of time talking to other authorities across the South East, so those links are well-established."

Q: What does the London Plan say about fire safety?

A: "The mayor wants government to ensure that the building regulations, which are set nationally, are up to scratch and providing the highest standard of fire safety.  What he’s doing through the London Plan is going even further than that and going beyond the building regulations to make sure new buildings meet even the highest standards of fire safety."

Q: Does the draft London Plan aim to protect industrial land?

A: "The London Plan is quite clear about protecting industrial land and making sure we protect that capacity while also building housing. One key way to do that is to encourage greater co-location of uses. For instance, at the moment, if you have industrial land being used at a low-density layout, whether it’s possible to build the same industrial capacity at a higher-density and thereby freeing up the site for residential development. It’s clear there’s a lot of pressures on land, but we believe that density is a key part of the solution. That would apply to industrial land as well as residential."

Q: Is the GLA going to support outer London boroughs in meeting their higher housing targets?

A: "We want to work very closely with the boroughs. These are clearly challenging and stretching targets for the boroughs. But we want to work with them to make sure they are delivered. For instance, we want to encourage boroughs to set out new design codes for areas to encourage good design for small sites coming forward. We are getting extra capacity at the GLA to help work with boroughs to assemble land to bring forward new sites. This is very much a partnership. That’s not to deny they are stretching targets, but we are clear that we want to work with boroughs to achieve them."

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