1. Environmental
December 1, 2017

Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan has set out ambitious housing reforms. But can he deliver?

By Nicolas Bosetti

The draft London Plan released by Sadiq Khan this week expresses his determination to meet London’s housing need in full, without infringing on the Green Belt. The commitment may seem obvious, but it is nonetheless ambitious – and it brings a rebalancing of the geography of development towards outer London, a shift away from Boris Johnson’s strategy.

The new plan is now out to public consultation this week. Since 2000, the London Plan has been the mayor of London’s principal instrument to shape the city’s change, allowing them to influence both the location and the kind of development that will take place. The mayor estimates that the capital will need an additional 660,000 homes this decade – an assessment consistent with that commissioned by City Hall in 2014, which projected a ten-year need of “at least” 620,000 homes.

However, there is a marked difference in the scale of ambition of the two most recent versions of this document. In his last plan, Boris Johnson found space for 420,000 homes, 200,000 short of his estimated housing need, and chose to monitor the boroughs against this target. This week’s draft Plan identified capacity – and set targets – for 650,000 homes in London over the next decade.

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Sceptics argue that this target, like its predecessors, will not be met – the new target is, after all, more than twice the number of homes completed the last ten years. Yet it is remarkable to see where this additional capacity was identified: in outer London, thanks to policies that the mayor believes will enable boroughs to achieve their targets.

The plan allows denser development in places with transport capacity – and argues that many of those are in outer London. Indeed, Crossrail and Thameslink are about to unlock significant development potential in outer boroughs, which the mayor hopes to realise by allowing higher densities near stations and encouraging building on small sites. Scrapping maximum densities may stir opposition, but these were not respected anyway, and the mayor plans to offset taller buildings with new guidelines promoting design quality and affordable housing provision.

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If the plan becomes reality, many outer London boroughs are set for a pace of housebuilding that they have not experienced in their 50-year history. The new plan requires them to accommodate 58 per cent London’s new build (against 41 per cent in the current plan).

Most outer boroughs will see their housing targets double, and some nearly triple. On the other hand, most central London boroughs can expect their targets to decrease, perhaps because a lot of capacity has already been delivered. A third group of boroughs, in east London, will continue to make a very large contribution to the city’s growth.

Rebalancing development towards more suburban areas may not have been the mayor’s first choice, but his commitment not to build outwards probably constrained his options. He will also have to allow building upwards in the city’s opportunity areas to accommodate growth, whether those sit in inner or outer London.

The London Plan will take time to digest. It is a long document, and is only entering its consultation phase; it will then be examined at public hearings by a planning inspector next autumn, with the final draft published in 2019. In the upcoming local election campaigns, these housing targets may be hot topics for debate.

But whether the mayor can temper London’s spiralling cost of living by expanding housing supply will depend on developers’ and landowners’ appetite to pursue those opportunities opened up in outer London.

Nicolas Bosetti is a senior researcher at the Centre for London. He tweets as @nicolasbosetti.

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