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Inspectors tell Khan to remove fracking policy from London Plan

Words: Laura Edgar

The Planning Inspectorate has advised the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to remove the policy relating to fracking from the Draft London Plan, and has also suggested that a review of the green belt should be added. The plan though, is considered to be sound except for such recommendations.

The plan (updated in July 2019 with the mayor’s minor changes following examination of the plan in public) states that development proposals for exploration, appraisal or production of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing “should be refused”.

Policy SI11 explains that the mayor does not support fracking in the capital.

Inspectors Roisin Barrett, William Fieldhouse and David Smith recommend that the policy should be deleted in its entirety, as the approach is “fundamentally inconsistent with the direction of national policy, which sets out the need to explore and develop shale gas and oil resources in a safe, sustainable and timely way”.

The inspectors add that it is “highly unlikely” that there is any suitable geology in London for fracking and “so the policy is unnecessary”.

Green belt

The Draft London Plan is clear about protecting the green belt. It seeks to “protect and enhance” London’s open spaces, including the green belt, Metropolitan Open Land, designated nature conservation sites and local spaces, as well as promote the creation of new green infrastructure and urban greening to secure net biodiversity gains where possible.

The green belt and Metropolitan Open Land designations serve to protect parks, rivers and green open spaces, prevent urban sprawl and focus investment and development on previously developed land.

Therefore, it states that development proposals that would “harm” the green belt should be refused.

The inspectors say, however, that if London is to meet its development needs “a review of the green belt should be undertaken to at least establish any potential for sustainable development”. The plan should include a commitment to a review of the green belt, which would be best carried out as part of the next London plan.

This should be led by the mayor owing to its strategic nature and to guarantee consistency. It should involve joint working with authorities around the administrative boundary as well as the boroughs.

A review would allow the mayor to consider green belt release “as a means to deliver housing and industrial development that cannot be accommodated in the existing built-up area or in adjoining areas”.

Heathrow’s third runway

The draft London Plan also outlines Khan’s opposition to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Policy T8 Aviation does say he supports the case for additional aviation capacity in the south-east of England as long as it meets London’s passenger and freight needs.

It goes on to say: “The mayor will oppose the expansion of Heathrow Airport unless it can be shown that no additional noise or air quality harm would result, and that the benefits of future regulatory and technology improvements would be fairly shared with affected communities.”

It notes that Khan recognises the need for additional runway capacity in the South East, but that it should not come at the expense of London’s environment or the health of its residents. “Heathrow Airport’s current operations are already a cause of concern for hundreds of thousands of Londoners, with its significant noise impacts and contribution to illegal levels of air pollution.”

Expansion will be opposed if it results in additional environmental harm or negative public health impacts.

The inspectors have recommended that the policy should be removed completely from the plan, stating that despite the mayor’s suggested changes, made after the examination hearing sessions, much of it remains “inconsistent with national policy”.

The inspectors have also considered Khan’s small sites housing target, gypsy and traveller accommodation, town centres and transport schemes.

What Khan said

In statement sent to The Planner, a spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The government – through its Planning Inspectorate – is trying to push the mayor to drop a series of key policies to protect London’s environment and tackle climate change and air pollution. The government want the mayor to allow fracking in London, back Heathrow expansion and look into building on the green belt – none of which he is willing to do. It is deeply disappointing that the government do not share Sadiq and London’s priority of tackling climate change, air pollution and protecting nature in the capital.”

The inspectors’ recommendations are not binding, but Khan must outline why he has not accepted them, if he chooses not to. Once considered, he must prepare his ‘intend to publish’ version of the plan, which will be sent to the secretary of state before the end of the year. The secretary of state has six weeks to consider it.

The Draft London Plan – Consolidated Suggested Changes Version July 2019 can be found here on the GLA website.

The inspectors’ report can be found here on the GLA website.

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