02Policy priority 2: Start the next London Plan
- Strategic review of green belt land The mayor should launch a strategic review of the green belt and release less-than-green land around railway stations for new homes, and consider the need for more industrial land.
- Abolish minimum space standards. London’s new flats are too big for single people to rent or buy by themselves because of space standards, which should be removed to help young Londoners stuck in house-shares.
- Co-operate with the new planning reforms. The mayor should begin the next London Plan, aiming to use the new Renewal Zones to solve the ‘small sites’ problem.
While the updated and now-current London Plan was finally published on 2 March 2021 after continuous development since 2016, the Government has made clear that the work for the next London Plan should begin immediately, especially in light of the Government’s ‘urban uplift’ to the standard method for calculating housing need, which has increased the capital’s annual figure from 69,000 to 94,000 new homes.
The next London Plan, which will be introduced amidst the Government’s wider planning reforms set out in the Planning White Paper last year, will need to respond to the criticism that the now-current London Plan is, at 542 pages, too long and too complex.
Tough choices will be required for the next London Plan, but the key for the mayor will be ensuring those decisions do the most to improve affordability for Londoners, reducing inequality, and creating construction jobs.
London’s existing housing situation means that the green belt reform is needed now more than ever. While the current London Plan’s unusually restrictive green belt policies have been diluted, they still state that development in the green belt should be refused except in ‘very special circumstances’. If this definition of green belt policy is to remain and ‘nibbling’ is off-limits, then the only way to handle a 35 per cent higher housing target will be through a strategic review that looks at London’s green belt (and its cousin, Metropolitan Open Land) in its entirety to decide where it should and should no longer apply.
Much of the green belt is not green and is not used for public amenity. Rail and tube stations in the green belt are especially appropriate for walkable ‘button development’ due to their fantastic infrastructure and quick, climate-friendly links into London. The mayor should back such development in London in the next London Plan – and urge government to follow suit – alongside colleagues in the Home Counties. Centre for Cities has calculated that altogether such button development could provide 891,000-1,115,000 new homes at suburban densities with quick connections into London and leave the vast majority of the Green Belt untouched.2
The current London Plan’s relaxations on redeveloping existing industrial land for housing may mean that some of London’s green belt land will also need to be released for industrial uses in this strategic review. Logistical sites are already in high demand around London, and a further squeeze will reduce jobs for Londoners and cause difficulties for consumers and firms in the rest of London.3
In addition, the next London Plan should abolish minimum space standards. Currently, these sit at 37m2 for one-person, one-bed flats and 50m2 for two-person, one-bed flats. However, the GLA’s own research shows that the average amount of space a Londoner in the private rented sector is able to buy on their income is 24.6m2, which means the new one-bed flats that are built are too big and too expensive for single private renters to afford.
Minimum space standards force renting Londoners into house-shares, which have been especially tough during the pandemic. The mayor should secure a progressive reform for young people by allowing them live affordably and by themselves, by scrapping space standards and letting people choose to live in smaller and cheaper flats if they wish. A boost in the supply of small flats would also release family homes currently used for house-sharing back onto the market for families.
The mayor should make use of planning reforms to secure the new homes that the capital needs. The Planning White Paper proposals (to divide land into ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’, or ‘Protected’ areas) would remove much of the planning system’s discretionary decision-making that creates bottlenecks in London’s housing pipeline. Reform would increase the overall supply of housing within the capital and help make the city more affordable by turning London’s housing market from a seller’s market into a buyer’s market.
The current system faces particular difficulties with small sites – 43 per cent of neighbourhoods in London’s urban area have built less than one home a year since 2011 and 14 per cent have built none. The new Renewal areas are especially promising for their potential to improve this.4 The ‘infrastructure levy’ will also be particularly beneficial for London, and could greatly simplify the land value capture process from development for local government.