The Political Show of the SOS issuing Directions on the London Plan.

The SoS has issued directions on the London Plan.   

Annex with details of changes.

This is all about show than substance.  The Mayors SDS is as a matter of law not subject to a binding inspectors report.  But as a matter of policy the new NPPF makes it binding.  But as a matter of national policy the new NPPF is not binding this round.  Phew.

There has been rows for years between the Mayor and SoS, most notably when Brandon Lewis was SoS.   A lot of this is played out for the benefit of Outer London Council leaders and readers of the Evening Standard.

The key changes the panel secured are their.  The housing figures are too high, the crude fix of the small sites policy to make up the gap deleted, the London Green Belt must be reviewed and Green Belt policy must be no tighter than national policy.  The SOS’s intervention does not change the housing numbers or Green Belt policy or even the London Plan new policy on Garden development despite the noise on ‘garden grabbing’. . The changes are largely tactical and the political noises for show.

The panel report allows things to move on from political shadow boxing and move towards resolution of  the real outstanding issues.  Like how to unstick certain strategic sites and how to deal with London’s inevitable overspill of housing need.

The SoS may have a point that Khans housing performance has been less than stellar.  Khan has prioritised affordability over volume and has rejected certain affordability models from central government even where grant funding is available because of the implied mix – both his political choice.   However the comparison in the letter to he West Midlands is ridiculous.  The average of 37,0000 over the last three years is almost double the historical long term average in London.  London has seem a step change in housing delivery which surpasses any other city.

The SOS rightly criticises the length and complexity of the plan.

‘Your Plan added layers of complexity that will make development more difficult unnecessarily; with policies on things as small as bed linen’

Ojne recalls Sir George Younger’s Letter to Ken Livingstone on the Greater London Plan criticising it for having policies on picnic tables.

Notably the letter looks ahead beyond the current plan to the next.  Though not to the SoS’s taste on affordable mix the plans policies on affordable housing were too complex to unpick.  For the beginning of the process Central Government and the Mayor’s office have agreed to get this plan out of the way and argue about the next one.  Hence the play acting in this letter.

As to the future plan it adds

Producing and delivering a new strategy with authorities in the wider South East to offset unmet housing need in a joined-up way

A regional strategy.  There you go.

Of course the first thing authorities in ROSE will say is ‘why should we review our GB until you are reviewing yours’

So the urgent question of strategic numbers in the south east will be delayed another four years.  Especially as the letter says.

I had expected you to set the framework for a step change in housing delivery, paving the way for further increases given the next London Plan will need to assess housing need by using the Local Housing Need methodology

A local need methodology which increases the target for places like Greenwich fourfold, reallocating it from places with market demand and brownfield capacity like Leeds to London and expecting people to move accordingly.  Thankfully the formula is going to change to remove such nonsense.  The noise on urban capacity being more political noise as cover for the ministry having made such a catastrophic technical mistake.


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