Mayor's estate regeneration refusal is a political statement, by Chris Brown

The planning system is often criticised for the slow pace at which it adjusts to changing markets.

An example of planning policy catching up might be the New London Plan policy on large scale co-living, dubbed ‘the Collective policy’, as facilitates the graduate housing concept of a single young innovative developer, The Collective, that was previously substantially undeliverable through the previous set of planning policies due to a combination of on-site affordable housing requirements and London Housing Design Guide space standards.

However just before Christmas the opposite happened.

In estate regeneration both the politics and the planning policy are changing faster than the projects.

The particular decision was the refusal of a planning application for the latest phase of Genesis’s Grahame Park estate demolition scheme in Colindale in Barnet.

This project has a long and troubled history dating back over fifteen years. Its early phases have been completed and it is on at least its second masterplan.

So it was something of a surprise when the planning application for the latest phase was refused by the Mayor on the grounds of loss of social housing.

There are two main elements to this, planning policy and politics.

The current London Plan allows replacement of social rented housing (what used to be called genuinely affordable before the current Mayor corrupted that term) with affordable housing (at up to 80% of market value) and this has allowed ‘social cleansing’ to happen.

The incoming Mayor's draft Guide to Estate Regeneration adjusted this with a reduction in the amount of social rented housing only permitted if ‘all other options have been exhausted’. Publication of the final policy is much delayed.

Then Grenfell happened, Jeremy Corbyn included estate regeneration in his conference speech and it became a Momentum issue particularly in places like Haringey.

The subsequent draft Housing Strategy made clear that there should be no loss of social rented housing and subsequently the new draft London Plan followed the same line and tightens up the policy again requiring like for like replacement in terms of both area and rent levels.

But, in the meantime, the lengthy process of delivering individual projects continued and Graham Park got caught in the change.

Although there is a net loss of social housing in the current phase application, with the developer being a housing association reliant on public funding (both from the Mayor and the HCA), the planning refusal is, in reality, a political statement. In a Tory borough prior to an election.

This will no doubt be resolved though with extra cost and delay and like for like replacement will be achieved overall.

But perhaps more importantly this is a clear warning to local authorities and housing associations. Estate demolition that doesn’t achieve like for like social rent replacement probably won't get planning permission or funding.

This changes the arithmetic of estate demolition vs refurbishment and should significantly change the outcomes in favour of more incremental infill and less demolition.

But for those phased projects currently underway the transition might be painful.

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