Debate rages over plan

Although mayor Boris Johnson has earned plaudits for some aspects of his draft replacement London Plan it has also been criticised for lacking bite in pivotal areas.

City Hall
City Hall

The dust has started to settle following last week's release of mayor Boris Johnson's draft replacement London Plan. While the document has been praised for its more local and pragmatic approach, it has been criticised for its lack of bite in key areas such as housing and for shifting focus away from central London.

A full review of the spatial development strategy left over from Ken Livingstone's time as London mayor began last Christmas, with a three-year timeline set for final publication. At the time, Johnson was quick to emphasise that he would prefer a full review rather than successive alterations to the previous plan. Respondents have called for a more co-operative approach to planning in the capital, a more concise plan and less supplementary guidance.

When the programme was launched (Planning, 9 January, p3), CB Richard Ellis head of planning Stuart Robinson maintained that much of Johnson's manifesto could be achieved without a complete rewrite of Livingstone's plan. "But I can see his technical and political reasons for a full review. He has become fired up with a sense of purpose and wants his policies to reflect that," Robinson acknowledged.

Deputy mayor Sir Simon Milton is among those who see it as crucial that the plan focuses on economic development in outer London. This summer, Milton told the London Assembly's planning and housing committee that the strategy must and show that the economy is "broader than the central activities zone (CAZ)" (Planning, 12 June, p3).

Following the release of the draft plan (Planning, 16 October, p2), many have applauded Johnson's concise approach and his desire to shift power towards the boroughs. But others are unconvinced that the proposals rise to future challenges. Assembly chairwoman Jenny Jones says: "We put forward suggestions that we feel he has not met, most notably the requirement to be explicit in his plans to avoid substandard developments."

One of the most talked about measures contained in the draft is the scrapping of percentage housing targets in favour of individual numerical goals for each borough. The revised policies will lead to an increase in housing targets for 25 out of the capital's 33 boroughs to provide a total of 33,400 additional homes each year. New affordable housing will be split between 60 per cent socially rented accommodation and 40 intermediate and will be sought out on sites with capacity to provide ten or more homes.

In the draft, Johnson explains that the capital's population is set to increase by 1.3 million over the next 25 years, while average household size will decline from 2.34 to 2.19 people. This means that accommodation for as many as 900,000 extra households will be required. It is a significant figure and some boroughs have been warning for months that they will struggle to meet it.

"We need the mayor to be as tough as possible on such issues as housing because it is about building for our future and coincides with combating climate change," stresses Jones. "But I do not believe that he has grasped the fact that he is in charge and that his policies should reflect this. If he is not explicit and tough on planning issues, then we will have problems in the future."

Knight Frank head of planning for London Charles Mills says Johnson's pragmatic approach to the capital's housing situation is welcome, although he also points to concerns over how effectively boroughs will meet their targets. "It is heavily leaning towards localism and the idea of local character," he notes. "With individual targets for affordable housing and the emphasis on the London Housing Design Guide, it will be down to the boroughs on how they ensure that these are met."

Another concern has been raised over the plan's shift in focus away from central London towards the capital's outer boroughs. "This plan is very disappointing," declares London First head of planning and development Judith Salomon. "In the mayor's foreword he talks about having the best of both worlds in having a large city and a small city, but the proposals in the plan are more suited to the small city."

Salomon remarks that Johnson's policies seem "half-hearted" in setting out to accommodate London's growth in future years. "There does not seem to be any opportunities to accommodate this growth. That applies not least in the CAZ, the most important part of the country economically. The draft says development will be directed to 'appropriate quarters'. But the CAZ is the area designated for London's world city functions. So it is the appropriate area, not just part of it."

Mills suspects that the purported shift towards outer London may well be a tactical move. "The blurring of appropriate action in the CAZ and more emphasis on the outer boroughs may be Johnson appealing to the voters who got him into office. While the previous mayor was perceived as focusing mainly on central London, Johnson clearly is looking towards outer London and the local level. It will be interesting to see how his strategic objectives are achieved once the boroughs have been handed the power."

Many other bones of contention can be expected to emerge throughout the consultation period, which extends until 12 January. But it is already clear that Johnson's shift towards decentralised metropolitan government is causing more than a ripple of concern among many in the planning community.

The London Plan is available at PlanningResource.co.uk/doc


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