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London councils write to Jenrick over ‘unworkable’ planning reforms

Words: Laura Edgar
London Housing / iStock: 000041231914

Local authorities in London have joined together to write to housing secretary Robert Jenrick to express concerns about ‘unworkable’ reforms to the planning system and threats to democracy.

The local authorities say they recognise the need for the planning system to evolve but have set out their concerns jointly in the letter as well responding individually to the consultation on the government’s reforms, set out in Planning for the Future.

Published in August, proposals in the government’s long-awaited planning white paper seek to make the consultation process more accessible by harnessing the latest technology, deliver homes by ensuring that local plans are in place within 30 months rather than seven years, and guarantee that new homes are “zero-carbon ready”.

For the 14 local authorities (see box), many of the reforms are “simply unworkable” while others “represent an unacceptable threat to local democracy and the delivery of affordable housing for our communities”.

The letter, sent today (26 October) explains that consulting at the plan-making stage rather than on individual planning applications “threatens” to remove the role of communities in the later stages of the planning process and could enable developers to progress their plans without meaningful consideration of those living in the immediate and surrounding area.

“Equalities impacts will not be taken into consideration and the opportunity to engage and involve local communities to enable development to contribute positively for people who currently live, use and work on and around the site along with the new inhabitants will be lost. Alongside this concern, by extending the ‘Permission in Principle’ for major developments, landowners and developers will gain a fast-tracked route to securing in-principle permissions without working up detailed plans,” the letter explains.

The government’s rhetoric in favour of devolution and mayors is in conflict with the proposals to “one-size fits all national approach” to planning. It also draws into question the role of the London Plan in citywide planning. This too is a “threat to democracy”.

The letter has been signed by:

  • Councillor Shama Tatler, lead member for regeneration, property & planning, London Borough of Brent.
  • Councillor Danny Beales, cabinet member for investing in communities, culture and an inclusive economy, London Borough of Camden.
  • Councillor Oliver Lewis, cabinet member for culture & regeneration, London Borough of Croydon.
  • Councillor Sarah Merrill, cabinet member for planning, regeneration and growth, Royal Borough of Greenwich.
  • Councillor Andrew Jones, cabinet member for the economy, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.
  • Councillor Matt White, cabinet member for planning and corporate services, London Borough of Haringey.
  • Councillor Diarmaid Ward, executive member for housing & development, London Borough of Islington.
  • Councillor Matthew Bennett, cabinet member for planning, investment and new homes, London Borough of Lambeth
  • Councillor Martin Whelton, cabinet member for regeneration, housing and transport, London Borough of Merton.
  • Rokhsana Fiaz OBE – Mayor of Newham, London Borough of Newham.
  • Councillor Sheila Bain, cabinet member for planning and planning enforcement, London Borough of Redbridge.
  • Councillor Johnson Situ, cabinet member for climate emergency, planning and transport, London Borough of Southwark.
  • Councillor Eve McQuillan, cabinet member for planning and social inclusion, London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
  • Councillor Simon Miller, cabinet member for economic growth and housing development, London Borough of Waltham Forest.

London local authorities say the proposal to reform the community infrastructure levy so that it is charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally set rate, and the abolition of section 106 will “curtail” their ability to secure affordable housing, social rent homes and other community infrastructure that mitigate development. They are “certain” such a move would result in less affordable housing being provided.

In addition, moving to a zonal planning system, for a city where tower blocks sit next to historic buildings, and residential and offices are located in and between conservation areas, would present “substantial technical challenges”.

The signatories say: “Attempting to categorise our land into the three types of zone is simply unworkable and unnecessary, it is too blunt a tool to enable strategic development and we are already providing clear guidance and delivering considerable development using detailed site allocations, which include the land use, design and other requirements.”

Although they agree that the planning system is not perfect, to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of place “cannot be overstated”.

Local authorities should not be sidelined and the role of communities should not be downgraded.

Councillor Johnson Situ, cabinet member for climate emergency, planning and transport for the London Borough of Southwark, told The Planner: “I’ve joined local authorities across London to write to Robert Jenrick today to voice Southwark’s vigorous opposition to the measures set out in the Planning for the Future white paper. Far from enabling the government’s vision of an “efficient, effective and equitable” planning system, these proposals downgrade the role of communities who should be at the very heart of placemaking and curtail our ability to deliver high-quality, genuinely affordable and environmentally sustainable housing as we plan our post-Covid recovery.

“The planning system isn’t perfect, but moving to a one-size-fits-all national approach undercuts the role and value of the London plan and even that of the Mayor of London in citywide planning. Such a system, which poses an unacceptable threat to local democracy, is at direct odds with the government’s emphasis on localism and devolution in recent years. The letter calls on the government to put local authorities and communities at the heart of the proposals for the planning system.”

The consultation on Planning for the Future closes on 29 October.

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