What does the London Plan say about housing?

What does the London Plan say about housing?

After the release of the draft London Plan, Tepilo takes a closer look at London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s proposals for housing in the capital.

Sadiq Khan has long made housing one of the most important issues of his mayoralty. And now, in his first draft of the London Plan, the capital’s mayor has outlined plans to increase housebuilding by relaxing planning laws and enabling a greater proportion of homes to be built in small spaces.

According to the draft, nearly 25,000 homes should be built each year on smaller plots of land – including gardens and end-of-terrace plots – that are found next to existing residential and commercial buildings.

The Mayor of London also said he wants more tower blocks, more affordable housing and more higher-density housing to help ease the supply-side shortage in the capital.

He said such moves would help tackle London’s housing crisis and ‘make the most of precious land in the capital’, but the Conservatives said the Mayor’s plans are simply a declaration of war on the suburbs, with worries that London’s urban sprawl will spread further than ever. Critics labelled the plans a ‘land grab’ that would reduce the amount of green space on offer in the capital.

With London’s population set to rise from 8.7 million to an estimated 10.5 million in the next quarter of a century, the draft plan sets out a vision of how the capital will cope with the challenges this poses. Although the 523-page document covers various elements of London life, from transport and pubs to toilets and takeaways, its primary focus is on housing.

Khan’s ambition is to build 65,000 new homes each year, with at least half of these affordable. Applications for developments on green belt land will, however, be refused unless certain conditions are met. Khan has promised to uphold protections for the green belt, but critics suggest this stance and his plans for a huge uplift in housing simply don’t correlate.

Meanwhile, in light of the Grenfell Tower fire, new developments will be required to achieve the ‘highest standards’ of fire safety.

Conservative members of the London Assembly have reacted negatively to the release of the draft London Plan. Andrew Boff, a prominent Conservative member of the London Assembly, said that the ‘mayor’s entire approach signals a downgrading in the quality of the capital’s housing and will leave outer London browner, overcrowded and harder to get around’.

He added that the removal of sensible unit restrictions will see more families crammed into ‘rabbit-hutch developments’ with no parking provisions if they happen to live anywhere near a train station.

More than anything, Khan has placed a key focus on affordable housing. It was one of his main pledges in the campaign that got him elected to the position of Mayor in the first place, and he’s remained determined to try and back this up with decisive action.

While the experts suggest that 66,000 new homes are needed each year to keep pace with demand, achieving this level of housebuilding won’t be easy. There are highly likely to be clashes with campaigners, communities and local authorities who may not want to see the changes that the Mayor is proposing, including more density and more building upwards, especially in the suburbs.

Outer London is expected to see the lion’s share of the new housing, while there are plans to build homes around or on top of major transport hubs. There will also be higher density of housing on new transport routes such as the Elizabeth Line to cope with increased demand.

Previously, the Mayor has talked about the important role TfL has to play in solving the capital’s housing crisis. We also looked earlier this year at why London is in the perfect position to reverse the recent housebuilding shortfall.

In reality, a multi-pronged approach – with a mixture of affordable homes to buy and rent, space-saving properties, a possible increase in collective living, a clampdown on empty homes and Buy to Leave, and a relaxation or speeding up of the planning process – will be needed to solve a long-term issue.

There are, of course, those who suggest that London’s growth is unsustainable and that the capital doesn’t have the infrastructure or public services to support such an expanding population. If demand is already outstripping supply, surely that situation will only be made worse by an increase in population of nearly two million in the next 25 years?

Others, however, suggest London’s housing crisis can be solved in innovative, creative ways – whether it be a prefab boom, garages being turned into homes, brownfield sites being repurposed or derelict homes being brought back into use.

Given the pledges he’s made on housing, Sadiq Khan will be hoping that a housebuilding boom in London is achievable.

The draft is now subject to a three month public consultation as well as close scrutiny by the government, the London Assembly and an independent panel, and the Mayor will hope his bold plans for affordable housing – with the aim for half of all new homes built on public land and 35% built by private developers to be genuinely affordable – will be fully backed.