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23/05/2018

Khan calls on government to reform land assembly rules

Words: Laura Edgar
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The Mayor of London has launched the final version of his Housing Strategy, which implores the government to radically reform land assembly rules.

This includes, the strategy explains, the reform of compulsory purchase powers, the introduction of new land assembly mechanisms and resources, and “much stronger” powers for City Hall over public land identified for new homes, particularly if it is government-owned.

Khan said he will refocus resources at City Hall towards identifying opportunities for the release of more land for housing and support councils and housing associations in acquiring land.

The Housing Strategy, launched for consultation in September last year, outlines how Khan will spend the £1.67 billion the Greater London Authority (GLA) received in the Spring Statement as he looks to deliver more affordable homes – most of which will be based on social rent levels.

He wants any social housing sold through Right to Buy or demolished for redevelopment to be replaced on a like-for-like basis. If demolition is involved in large schemes, Khan said he will only agree funding where a ballot of existing residents has taken place.

The mayor’s ambition is to make sure half of all homes being built are affordable. In order to achieve this, Khan says he will ensure that the planning system secures more affordable homes as part of new developments, including fast-tracking plans that meet his minimum threshold.

Further to this, £4.82 billion will go towards building 116,000 affordable homes starts by 2022.

The strategy states that “it is the job of the planning system to find where new homes can be built”. But, it acknowledges that “planning policies and consents alone cannot ensure that land identified for new homes actually comes forward for development”.


Sadiq Khan’s Housing Strategy says he will work with councils, the government and others to make sure London’s planning policies support additional housing supply. He will:

  • promote “appropriate” development of new homes on brownfield land in and around town centres, as well as through a new presumption in favour of residential development on small sites.
  • protect the green belt and support a shift to higher-density development through new design-led density policies and promotion of more co-location and intensification in existing built-up areas.
  • provide clear housing delivery targets for every council in London.

Khan said new supplementary planning guidance will inform housing design standards, while social enterprise scheme Public Practice, will help boost councils’ planning and regeneration expertise, with the first planners placed in local government last week.

He wants the government to address the lack of resources and capacity in council planning and housing departments.

The mayor has also announced that all London boroughs have signed up to his rogue landlord checker, meaning renters in the capital can check out their prospective landlord’s or agent’s record. Londoners can also report rogue practices online.

Khan's Housing Strategy can be found on the GLA website (pdf).


Reaction:

Margaret Baddeley, planning director at Lichfields, told The Planner: “On land assembly, this is about the mayor and others making more use of CPO powers, the government making legislative / procedural changes to CPO and the mayor lobbying central government for national reform to introduce new mechanisms and funding for land assembly -  a new system of land taxation is being sought in the longer term too.

“These variously are either complex or potentially controversial areas.

“As a point of principle though, we know from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that any CPO / land assembly law change needing primary (or even secondary) legislation (and any new or amended planning legislation for that matter) has to be seen in the context of Brexit taking all available parliamentary time at least in the medium term. These aspects of the strategy are perhaps less than realistic as implementable proposals at least in the short to medium term.”

Sian Berry AM, chair of the London Assembly Housing Committee, welcomed much of the strategy, but noted that there is not a policy for building more family-sized homes.

“Londoners continue to be priced out of this city. We have deep concerns about the genuine affordability of many of the housing programmes the mayor is supporting. The strategy has continued to include the government’s definition of ‘affordable’ at up to 80 per cent of market rent, so we will continue to closely monitor how many council homes and homes at social levels of rent appear on the ground.”

The London Assembly will be holding a question-and-answer session with James Murray, deputy mayor for housing and residential development, on 4 June.

Paul Landsberg, associate director at Nexus Planning, pointed out: “One of the five priorities the mayor has identified is ‘building homes for Londoners’, however his London Housing Strategy is silent regarding the definition of a ‘Londoner’. Earlier this year, the mayor revealed that he had secured ‘first dibs’ for Londoners on new homes up to £350,000 through a voluntary agreement with the major homebuilders. While this is a noble aspiration, it has been mooted before and it is not clear how this could be legally enforced beyond a voluntary agreement from homebuilders to market their properties in the UK and London for three months before they are marketed overseas. Plus, what qualifies a person as a ‘Londoner’? Is it a person living in London, or one who is also a British passport holder?

“The securing of genuinely affordable housing for Londoners is a result that all parties would support, however at the moment this strategy appears to be a token measure that is neither adequately supported by planning policy nor national legislation. These policy and legal barriers would need to be overcome before Londoners are first in the queue.”

Katherine Evans, partner at law firm TLT, noted that there are various themes in the housing strategy that feature in the draft London Plan.

“The focus on small sites is intended to ensure faster delivery and to help smaller housebuilders be active in the market. There is a concern, however, that the housebuilding industry may lack the requisite skills and numbers in the post-Brexit world.

“Affordability and the provision of affordable homes is also a focus for the mayor. In London, the affordable rent model has meant that low income families have been unable to access affordable housing because it is just too expensive.

“The strategy is ‘working towards half of new homes built being affordable’ which is consistent with the theme in the London Plan that allows schemes to go forward without viability testing if a certain level of affordable housing is offered, which generally will be below 50 per cent.”

Evans pointed out that none of the funding in the strategy appears to be new funding, while it seems to draw on the initial Letwin report regarding land use.

“There is mention of intervention, but not of specific reform on land assembly and CPOs – these powers have been available for a long time so whether anything will actually change is debatable.”


Image credit | Shutterstock

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