An overview of the London Plan 2021

On March 2nd, the Mayor of London’s development plan came into force, the framework of which focuses primarily on London’s current housing crisis and climate emergency. It is an entirely new Plan, meaning that it is not an alteration or updated version of any previous ones.

Within the next 20-25 years, the new project aims to identify places with the capacity for growth, including Opportunity Areas and town centres which will be linked by a new and improved public transport infrastructure. It will also focus on creating 52,000 new homes each year (50% of which should be affordable and 10% meeting the highest standard possible of accessibility) in order to combat London’s housing crisis.

In developing these new properties, the Plan also wants to strictly align itself with being conscious of the environment, therefore 95% of construction and demolition waste is to be reused, recycled or recovered and all major developments should meet zero-carbon standards, with larger schemes being developed in line with circular economy in mind (minimising demolition waste and designing new buildings in order for them to be disassembled and their materials to be re-used at the end of a building’s life).

The London Plan 2021

Developing the London Plan 2021

Sadiq Khan’s Initial Proposal

When Sadiq Khan came into office as the Mayor of London in 2016, one of his main focuses was putting together a comprehensive development plan for the city. The Plan has been in the works for nearly five years now, at one point temporarily on hold as Khan’s original preliminary housing goals were regarded as unrealistic; Andrew Whitaker, the planning director of Home Builders’ Federation, commented that the “numbers were not achievable” in the timeframe that Khan had set forth.

In October 2020, the Mayor was told to cut his original target of 65,000 homes per year down to 52,000. Despite his opposition to some of the panel’s views, Khan agreed to these new terms, as 52,000 is still a significant leap from the existing 2016 London Plan (which called for a lower figure of 42,000 homes per year). This numerical increase will consequently provide housing developers with more opportunities.

Jenrick: Mayor must start working to dramatically increase delivery of new homes

In a letter published by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, in January 2021 , it was outlined that Sadiq Khan had a “very long way to go to meet London’s full housing needs”. Jenrick, who oversees decisions that ensure the British population has access to affordable housing, also stated that he expected Khan to “start working to dramatically” to increase the capital’s housing delivery and consider how the 2021 Plan holds the potential to bridge the gap between London’s housing needs and the housing it seeks to deliver.

Sadiq Khan later claimed that the delay in signing off the Plan (which had been in Jenrick’s possession for “more than a year”) had negatively impacted the confidence of key industries as well as other London-based businesses, claiming that “businesses, boroughs, developers and London’s communities desperately need the certainty of the new Plan, even more so during the recovery from the enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic”.

London’s housing crisis

London’s Housing Crisis

A number of things have contributed to London’s current housing crisis. The largest driver of the housing crisis has been a lack of housing delivery by the Boroughs. This, combined with a combination of insufficient housing benefit levels, the lack of social rent housing and soaring rent prices in the private sector, as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, has led to a severe housing shortage in both market and affordable housing.

LHA (Local Housing Allowance) has undergone cuts over the years, leading to many private renters finding themselves unable to afford properties. Between 2008 and 2019, it was recorded that private renters were spending up to 57% of their income on rent alone.

Social rent properties in London have completely dwindled in the last decade: only 534 additional social homes were created last year, equating to a decrease of 95% in comparison with figures taken from 2011 and 2012. With social housing disappearing, London is facing an enormous spike in homelessness.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Alongside the increasing prices of private rent, lack of housing benefits and the dwindling number of social rent housing, London’s housing situation has also been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

WHO (the World Health Organisation) has commented that overcrowding and inadequate shelter are significant factors in the transmissions of disease, with “epidemic potential” such as acute respiratory infections.

However, the housing development section of the 2021 Plan includes policies that should hopefully lay the stepping stones to London’s recovery from COVID-19: the GLA (Greater London Authority) have also called for the government to pledge £5bn per year to “free up stalled sites” and “ensure continued delivery of homes” as a result of the pandemic.

Planning consultants, such as Norton Taylor Nunn, have specifically tailored their assessment methodology to accommodate for the current crisis as more construction sites have begun to reopen. Most staff are working from home for the foreseeable future, however, are still able to meet with clients and contractors online and utilise “digital sites” in order to function as normal. Norton Taylor Nunn specifically also offers free initial planning advice to any NHS or Social Care organisation that has a requirement of additional capacity.

Sadiq Khan

The strategy for tackling London’s housing crisis

With London’s current statistics demonstrating a desperate need for affordability (for the private renters, workers and the homeless), Sadiq Khan’s 2021 Plan outlines how the government plans to tackle the situation.

The Plan identifies space needed for over 52,000 homes per year, with a set target of 50% of those homes being “genuinely affordable”. The Plan also aims to use a “threshold approach”, meaning that schemes that have the delivery of at least 35% affordable housing will automatically be placed on a “fast track route”. These schemes, according to the Mayor, will be met with the utmost scrutiny to ensure that the maximum possible amount of affordable housing will be provided and that at least 10% of them will hold the highest level of accessibility possible.

Challenges for housing developers

Ben Norton, Planning Director of Norton Taylor Nunn, has said that

“the new London Plan offers challenges to developers, with a requirement for half of all new homes to be affordable housing. However, it also offers opportunities, with big increases in the housing targets councils must achieve.”

Housing developers will be seeking to build these new properties for London over the next coming years; according to Steve Barton (Chair of the Spatial Planning Network), the new 2021 Plan and its changes made prior to publishing will not “reduce the number of homes” built, as the previous estimation of 65,000 homes was made under “flawed methodology” that didn’t reflect the constraints of labour and materials on housebuilders, as well as market absorption rates.

One of the main concerns for housing developers, however, is that Sadiq Khan’s plan may result in London being unable to meet its own housing needs. Ben Norton of Norton Taylor Nunn takes up the theme. “The new plan has risks. It could make it harder to deliver affordable and suitable homes – especially in outer London. It would be helpful if the duty to co-operate were extended to the London Plan, so that authorities in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex could help to take up the unmet need.”

The lack of structure for co-operation and joint working may prove to be detrimental to housing development. Due to the unwillingness of both the Mayor and the Government to have an open conversation with the home counties about the green belt around London, some professionals in the development industry are concerned that an opportunity to allow extra housing to aid London’s goal is being overlooked.

Benefits for Housing Developers

The good news is that, with the new Plan pushing for an increase in properties to meet the target of London’s housing crisis, the demand for housing development services has increased, with an additional need for efficient planning consultancy as well.

Last year, Norton Taylor Nunn secured planning permission for clients across London, with developments in, Earls Court, Ilford, Kensington, Kilburn, Tottenham, Wembley and Woodford Green, , expected to deliver at least 300apartments in the London area. In February 2021, the City of London Corporation approved a new 38-storey development, the third to receive permission in the Square Mile this year. Housing developers have ensured that “sustainability remains at the core of the scheme” and they’ve risen to the challenges left by the pandemic by creating adaptable office spaces to accommodate for the new ways of working.

London’s 2021 Plan requires plan makers to identify a “specific, deliverable and developable” range of new residential properties that will meet Khan’s goals. The Plan not only calls for 52,000 new residential properties per year but also 47 new opportunity areas, 55 strategic industrial locations, 27 designated strategic views, a 400m exclusion zone for hot food takeaways near school areas and 43 safeguarded wharves.

An example of a recent development plan is the additional amenities that are to be added near Battersea station, which will include “2000-capacity events space” and more “cafes and restaurants”. The development, aiming to be completed and open by autumn 2021, is considered to be London’s third-largest retail destination on three levels.

This extensive list of needs provides both house developers and planning consultants with new opportunities to make a considerable profit and, for consultants in particular, increase their clientele. The Plan also requires an increase in urban greening in order to tackle London’s climate emergency and the protection/development of important, historical landmarks that contribute to London’s cultural heritage: this should prove to be a welcoming challenge for house developers in the city.

Work with a London planning consultant

As the London development and planning regulations get more complex and demanding, it is important to seek professional advice, just like if you’d contact a mortgage broker or property investment company. Working with town planning consultants will help you navigate through the process of working with the local planning authorities to ensure you don’t fall foul of these increasingly intricate development rules.

Whether it’s securing planning applications or unlocking the potential of your land through Strategic Land Development, working with town planning consultants, such as Norton Taylor Nunn, is going to ensure your project follows the London Plan and meets the requirements of the local authority in the district where your project is going to take place. To learn more about how a town planning consultant can help you get your London project off the ground, visit Norton Taylor Nunn’s website.