Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, has issued two further directions in respect of the Draft London Plan, nine months after issuing his first eleven directions back in March of this year. In his letter dated 10 December 2020, The additional amendments were set out in a separate annex with a statement of reasons. My colleague Anna Coyle sets out the directions in more detail below.
The first additional direction relates to Policy DR9 (Tall Buildings) and its explanatory wording. London boroughs will be required under the Draft London Plan to include within their local plans a definition of tall buildings for specific localities. The directed amendments introduce a minimum standard of ‘6 storeys or 18 metres measured from ground to the floor level of the uppermost storey’ for those definitions. The explanation given is that the modification is needed to ensure that there is not ‘an unintended policy against relatively modest height increases which could be caught by some definitions of tall buildings’, acknowledging the need to encourage gentle densification across London.
The second additional direction relates to the explanatory wording for Policy E4 (Land for industry). The amendment will allow boroughs, when considering releasing green belt or metropolitan open land (MOL) to accommodate housing need, to also have the option of allocating industrial land to meet these needs in exceptional circumstances. This will be the case even where such land is in active employment. The explanation given is that this option should be available ‘as part of an overall approach to achieving sustainable development and prioritising the use of brownfield land’. Jenrick’s cover letter specifically confirms that this amendment is required “in light of the profound impact COVID-19 is having on London”.
In relation to the previous 11 directions, Jenrick’s letter was also accompanied by a schedule re-confirming his position on the Mayor’s proposed text, further to discussion between officials at MHCLG and White Hall. In particular, key points to note within the amended text are:
- The softening of the language around the need to retain industrial floorspace, with the removal of the text that required, as a general principle, no net loss;
- Amendments to the green belt policy to reinstate the ‘very special circumstances’ test for development in the green belt and to allow for the extension or de-designation of the green belt only in exceptional circumstances. The stricter wording proposed by the Mayor to prohibit any proposals that would harm MOL has been deleted, as has the statement that de-designation of the green belt ‘will not be supported’; and
- Greater flexibility for local authorities to set their own housing targets, density standards and parking standards where supported by clear evidence.
Jenrick’s updated position was given in response to a letter from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, issued only a day earlier on 9 December 2020. Within it, Khan expressed his disappointment that Jenrick had yet to respond to his letter of 24 April 2020 and subsequent proposed amendments to the draft Plan. Now that Jenrick has responded formally, the next step will be for the Mayor to re-submit his Intention to Publish version of the Plan for approval. Subject to any continuing disagreements on the drafting, we can expect to see the adoption of the new London Plan early next year.
Once published, the London Plan will be an important tool in helping to drive housing delivery, economic recovery and sustainable development across London.