Are Sadiq Khan’s planning reforms viable?

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Our new Mayor of London is to be applauded for putting affordable housing high on the agenda (Source: Getty)

After just two weeks in office as the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan revealed his plans to deal with the capital’s housing crisis and said the previous mayor had “left the cupboard bare” when it comes to delivering affordable housing.

Khan says he will be working with the government to actively identify surplus public land and aims to ensure that 50 per cent of all new homes in London will be affordable. According to reports, the previous mayor of London delivered just 4,880 affordable homes, the lowest number since records began in 1991.

While the desire to utilise public land in the housing crisis battle is understood, it is not clear how the mayor plans to “unlock” the development potential of this land. Identifying publicly owned land is only the first step towards development.

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Many of these sites have complicating factors (contamination, existing tenants, legal issues) which will need to be addressed before development can be considered. In addition the difficulties involved in negotiating the planning process, which remains a slow and cumbersome process, shouldn’t be underestimated.

Partnerships between public bodies (particularly local boroughs) and private developers may help to speed up the process and have side benefits in terms of encouraging the developers to provide apprenticeships.

On the other hand, the developers are likely to look for the best available commercial deal which is unlikely to include voluntarily providing higher levels of affordable housing than currently required by the local boroughs. Affordable housing is only one of the costs associated with new developments and an increased affordable housing requirement could see less money available for contributions towards other key community infrastructure required by the development, such as education and transport.

During Khan’s recent visit to Transport for London’s Landmark Court site in Southwark last month, he announced plans for regeneration of the site and to build at least 120 new homes there.

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It is common knowledge that TfL have had plans to redevelop the site for a number of years but unlocking it has proved challenging thus far and given its location within a stone’s throw of The Shard and London Bridge Station it seems unlikely that 60 of the 120 proposed new homes could be priced within the affordable housing bracket and still deliver a financially viable project.

The office-to-residential permitted development rights have certainly helped to speed up the process. However, there can only be a limited number of public sector bodies owning office space which is both available and suitable for conversion into homes.

On any development, the need for sites to be economically viable will inevitably impact on the affordable housing provision. This is demonstrated by the Earls Court redevelopment, where the affordable housing element is anticipated at best to be 11 per cent of the total scheme and in a worst case scenario, the scheme will fail to incorporate any genuinely affordable homes at all.

Although our new mayor of London is to be applauded for putting affordable housing high on the agenda, it will be interesting to see if he can even get close to these targets and whether it will have any effect on stream-lining the planning process for London.

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