This autumn, London mayor Sadiq Khan will release his first draft of the London Plan, which will replace Boris Johnson’s vision for the capital.
Housing is likely to feature prominently in the draft, which will provide a framework for London’s development over the next 20 to 25 years.
Khan has made no secret of his ambition to house Londoners in places they want to live at prices they can afford, but making this a reality is proving to be a struggle.
Last week, data from London First’s Fifty Thousand Homes campaign showed that last year one in three successful planning applications failed to reach the construction stage.
Housing won’t be Khan’s only priority, however. He hopes to raise £4.5bn from levies on developments in the capital in order to help fund Crossrail 2 and therefore needs to encourage investment in new hotels, retail and offices.
The London Plan is Khan’s chance to build a legacy, but what will it be? Property Week asked four experts what they expect to see in the plan.
The mayor’s office recognises that industrial land in London has been lost over the past few years and sees the importance of reversing this trend. We expect to see better protections for this land type, but to qualify, the site owner must demonstrate that the land is being used to its maximum potential. An example of intensive development would be a warehouse with storage units located on top.
City Hall has been vocal about the lack of diversity of retail and leisure units taking space in the ground floors of new blocks of flats. We expect to see a stipulation that a better mix of shops occupies the commercial area of residential buildings, not just mini-supermarkets.
In addition, the affordability of London office rents has been a controversial subject for some time. If you’re putting up an office development, should the developer provide a couple of units that would be affordable to small businesses in the capital? A big concern for those involved is the difficulty of establishing a need for affordable business units - it is not the same as establishing a need for affordable housing. A subsidy provides a competitive edge and when, if ever, would it be fair to withdraw the subsidy? We expect Khan to say he will leave the decision on affordable business units to the local boroughs.
I would like to see industrial land protected in the right locations all across London - not pushed to the fringes of the city. I hope planners support that.
The plan should be pro-development if the mayor wants to raise enough money for large-scale infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2. He needs enough building in the capital to raise funds through the levy.
I expect the plan will have big strategic objectives but not enough clarity for developers on how to achieve them. I don’t think there will be huge differences between the current strategic messages we’re hearing from Khan and those we will see in the plan. I expect the plan to stress that local authorities continue to focus on delivering affordable housing by making the best use of brownfield sites and not releasing strategic employment land.
It is also likely the plan will highlight the South East as a region that could help supply houses, rather than flats, for London residents. Khan has been open about his support for high-density housing, which is likely to be translated into the London Plan. However, if there is no review of green-belt protections and strategic employment land remains ringfenced, the mayor’s office should open up a dialogue on what London needs and what it is viable to deliver.
Some housebuilders have been criticised for selling homes off-plan to foreign investors. This is where the mayor needs to be realistic about how his plans are realised. Selling off-plan helps to bring in the money early, which is needed to deliver high-density, complex housing sites. What I’d like to see from the mayor is honesty and transparency with Londoners and those in the South East about a realistic vision for housing. High-density housing may be part of the strategy but it is not necessarily for, or wanted by, all Londoners. If the South East is brought in to the mayor’s scope, this region could provide houses for those who don’t want to live in flats.
I think we are going to see an increase in the yearly housing target in terms of the number of new housing units to be approved. We are broadly meeting the target of 42,000 new homes approved, but this is only feeding through to approximately 25,000 builds, which needs to be higher. I expect to see the target rising to 70,000, which, it is hoped, will feed through into increased construction levels.
Alongside this sits a wider question about the extent of the mayor’s role in progressing schemes from permission through to build. An expansion of his powers would, alongside an ambitious London Plan, enable him to tackle some of the areas where policies could otherwise fall short of the mark.
I’d like to see City Hall use more well-placed but underused public brownfield land to provide housing in parts of London where people
want to live. Northolt airport in west London jumps out at me as a great example. I’d like this to be allocated as a new garden city. It’s just north of Heathrow and is currently owned by the Ministry of Defence as an RAF base, mainly used to serve executive jets for ministers and the royal family. Running close to 200 ha, you could fit 20,000 new homes on the site and workspace for some 30,000 to 35,000 new jobs. It doesn’t make sense that this has not been identified by the mayor as an ideal site to accommodate some of London’s growth.
If you want signposts as to what will be in the London Plan, look back to Khan’s manifesto and the pledges that secured him the mayoral seat. One of those was population growth, which translates into housing need. Diversity and culture, Brexit and climate change and the environment were also big issues and where I expect the plan to focus. But I think one thing is certain and that is that delivering housing will be his priority.
I think we will see him take the 35% affordable housing target imposed on developments, published in the supplementary planning guidance, and turn that into policy in order to elevate its importance.
Whether he is able to weave anything into his housing policies on diversity will be interesting to see, because it is difficult to design a housing policy that directly addresses cultural and diversity differences. He could do this by making affordable housing more inclusive. Where people live and the way they live is fundamental to how they interact with their environment and how their life chances can be improved.
I’d like to see a change to the way we view employment land - land protected for the specific use of a particular employment type. Yes, it is important to support a range of jobs in the city, but London is moving more towards an office-based economy.
At the moment there is too much of a tendency to cling to industrial land, which is not being used in the best way it can. Industrial sites are important, but they tend to provide jobs for people who live locally to them. There are some sites crying out for development because they are well linked to transport. If you have a protected industrial site situated next to a station, you are doing away with the opportunity to deliver hundreds of homes and jobs.