London Councils opposes ‘potentially disastrous’ planning changes

  • By JackGraves

London Councils has stated its strong opposition to “any moves towards a planning free-for-all”.

Responding to the government’s white paper on planning policy, London Councils expressed concern that the changes will severely restrict boroughs’ ability to uphold quality standards and to ensure affordable housing targets are met.

The cross-party group, which represents all 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation, is opposed to eroding councils’ control over development in their area through zoning arrangements.

These arrangements risk mirroring the lack of control local authorities have over notoriously poor-quality permitted development rights (PDR) schemes. PDR often produces low-quality residential accommodation in unsuitable locations, with no requirement for affordable housing, and a loss of employment space.

Boroughs are particularly alarmed by the white paper’s proposed abolition of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy agreements, which local authorities use to make sure development includes affordable homes. Weakening council planning powers will also make it more difficult to push developers on reducing carbon emissions, undermining national climate change measures.  

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, said:

“These changes are potentially disastrous for Londoners and could reduce the amount of affordable housing built in the capital. 

“London is suffering the most severe homelessness crisis in the country and the chronic shortage of affordable housing is at the heart of this. It would be a massive step backwards if the government undermined boroughs’ ability to ensure new development in London includes affordable homes.

“Councils play a crucial role in the planning system, safeguarding our communities’ long-term interests and upholding quality standards. While we support ambitions to build more housing, we strongly oppose any moves towards a planning free-for-all – which would lead to lower quality and fewer affordable homes in London.

“We will be sharing our concerns with ministers. Councils certainly need more detailed information and reassurance from the government over how these changes would work.”

London Councils has repeatedly highlighted inadequate funding, rather than the planning system, as the key factor explaining the capital’s housing pressures.

Boroughs grant around 50,000 planning approvals each year and there are approximately 305,000 new homes in the capital's development pipeline. Boroughs do not have – and are not being given – powers to make developers build out planning permissions. Instead, the white paper would remove their ability to ensure good quality, sustainable development with sufficient affordable housing.

There are currently 243,000 London households on council housing waiting lists. Over 58,000 homeless households are placed in temporary accommodation by London boroughs. The capital accounts for two-thirds of homelessness in England.

To address the shortage of affordable housing in the capital, London Councils is seeking increased government investment and improved support for council housebuilding. This requires an end to all national restrictions on the use of Right to Buy receipts, so that every penny raised from council house sales can be reinvested in replacements, and confirmation of long-term social rent levels.

London’s council housing stock is under considerable pressure. 287,000 London council houses have been sold through Right to Buy since the policy’s introduction in 1980. In 2016-17, 3,138 council homes were sold in London and only 1,445 replaced.