By Kevin Davis, Managing Partner, Local Government
In our last blog, I explored what has gone wrong with the London Plan. But what happens now?
The Secretary of State has said the plan needs to be rewritten and that the next draft must show ambition as to how it meets the undisputed housing targets. This is done through bringing more land into the system and a reduction in complexity of the drafted plan, particularly where it goes against the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This is a direction by the Secretary of State and therefore cannot really be resisted but there are other options if the Mayor says he cannot meet it. Interestingly the Government has not set a deadline for this new plan but with the Mayoral elections now postponed for twelve months, one hardly thinks they will want to wait that long before taking a decision.
The obvious option is that the London Plan powers could be given to Homes England (HE). HE has the advantage of few political considerations in what they believe should happen in London. They currently do what the Mayor does for the rest of the UK and it, therefore, makes complete sense for the Government to hand the powers to HE if the Mayor continues in his failure to deliver. That would require legislation and is presumably what the Secretary of State is hinting at in his letter.
I do have another radical option. Why do we need the London Plan?
London is not like other parts of the UK. Yes, it is significantly the largest city in the UK and a global centre. The strength of London has always been in its diversity of Government and the city is the sum of its parts. Those parts, in London governance terms, are the Boroughs. If we scrap the London plan then we will have a national policy that will set the framework under which each Borough will have to construct its own Local Plan, based on its own Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) done with its neighbouring boroughs, both in and out of London. This would create truly local accountability and a planning policy designed and delivered in the communities it is shaped for.
Yes, Boroughs could be obstructive to growth but then the Government needs to align its infrastructure investments to those places delivering housing and create Borough incentives to build homes, or allow local leaders, through inaction, to condemn their Boroughs to tired and inadequate infrastructure. After all, this is how the UK works outside London and think how much faster the London Planning system would work without too much toing and froing between the local planning authorities and the Mayor’s planners. The administration of housing grants would fall to Homes England as it does elsewhere in the UK.
One might ask what would the Mayor do then? Maybe that’s for another time but there is plenty of scope for a Mayor to concentrate on other issues such as infrastructure delivery co-ordination to support housing plans but also a wider role in health delivery across London. The Mayor should be running strategic London wide services such as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police and not trying to direct a system over which much of the powers lie elsewhere; in the Boroughs.
What is clear is that the Government has run out of patience with the lack of delivery from the current Mayor of London. The Mayor now has twelve months to convince the Government and the electorate that he is up to the job and cannot merely keep blaming others for his lack of performance.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Welwyn Garden City. Welwyn marked a step change and model for post-war development and London needs to be setting a new vision of what comes next in housing development and the building of communities.
Instead, in 2020, London seems to lack a vision of the sort of place it wants to be and a lack of leadership to develop a liveable, safe and well-connected city. I fear for London’s future and this is rightly a concern for the Government. The current Mayor needs to demonstrate he can walk taller than he has for the past four years and concentrate on delivering for London and Londoners and maybe, just maybe, scrapping the London Plan will let him play a more strategic role.
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