18 March 2020
Back in March 2018, we channelled our inner Mystic Meg and suggested that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was likely to see significant resistance from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government over his plans to radically reform the spatial development strategy for London. On 27 July 2018, James Brokenshire MP (then Secretary of State) fired a warning shot, suggesting our premonitions might be right.
On Friday 13 March 2020, following an extensive examination, Robert Jenrick MP (the current Secretary of State) duly followed through with his letter. Unlucky for Khan…
For the first time since the Greater London Authority was established, we have a newly formed government with a large majority brimming with bravado and a mayor who is of a wholly different political persuasion seeking re-election. The result is a head on collision over the Mayor’s flagship policy reform.
Robert Jenrick goes to extraordinary lengths to personally berate the performance of the Mayor on his housing delivery and affordability. In Mr Jenrick’s words, “Housing in our capital is simply too important for the underachievement and drift displayed under your mayoralty, and now in your Plan, to continue.”
Strong stuff indeed.
He goes on to highlight the west midlands mayoralty which has “delivered significant increases in delivery”. It’s no surprise that the Mayor of the west midlands is a Conservative.
For all the political engineering, there are important points to take home from the intervention. Jenrick has directed changes to certain key policies across the following themes:
Ambition – Recognising the insatiable demand for housing across the city, policy changes are directed to ensure that the Plan does not stifle the creativity of London boroughs looking to go above and beyond.
Green Belt/MOL – As commentators and the examining inspectors said, Khan’s proposed wording for Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land goes beyond the restrictions imposed by the NPPF. Jenrick has directed amendments to bring them in line with government policy. This builds on his earlier comment about the need to prepare a comprehensive review of the Green Belt in London as part of the next review of the Plan.
Housing – Requirements for affordable housing on small sites (10 dwellings or fewer) are to be removed. The Secretary of State also questioned the overall suitability to the Plan’s focus on small sites following doubt cast upon the delivery of some 12,700 homes and the political sensitivity to garden grabbing. There is also a focus on delivering family sized housing, which is a requirement London boroughs must consider when preparing policies and taking decisions in relation to dwelling mix.
Industrial Land – The strong protection of industrial land is weakened to enable "optimal uses for industrial sites where housing is in high demand".
Density – Changes are required to explicitly state that the design of the development must optimise site capacity. Jenrick speaks of “gentle density around high streets and town centres, and higher density in clusters which have already taken this approach.”
Aviation – Finally, Jenrick makes it abundantly clear that aviation planning is for government and not the Mayor.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There is a way forward and one in which there are regular meetings established between the Secretary of State and Khan and between the full team of the department of State and the Greater London Authority. That is in addition to a regular quarterly reporting on housing delivery more generally in a style reflective of Homes England.
The next move is awaited with baited breath but we would hope that the carrot of “producing and delivering a new strategy with authorities in the wider south east to offset unmet housing need in a joined-up way” is taken up with full and unabated vigour.
In the meantime, Khan has another 12 months to show some progress. It would be rather unkind not to feel for him, especially when it was widely reported that he was certainly on track to secure a second term, had the mayoral elections gone ahead.
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