London political turmoil and committee decision making

Political fallout in the run up to Local Elections

On the 5th February, when the first meeting of the housing implementation taskforce took place, the Prime Minister highlighted the important role of all government departs and asked for creative thinking to meet the target of 300,000 additional houses by the mis-2020s.

It is worth noticing, though, this announcement was regarded as a tactical step back with any pre-2022 election target compared to the commitment of 2015 and 2017 to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and half million more by the end of 2022.

Apparently, a significant proportion of the government’s housing targets will need to take place in London where the annual target has already been increased by the Mayor of London. The expected figures will only be achieved through a great collaboration between the central government, the Mayor of London and the local Councils and communities.

Nevertheless, the number of planning refusals in London has significantly increased, especially now before the local elections, while regarding the appeals the Planning Inspectorate’s performance statistics are still poor. In any year with borough elections planning becomes politicised but this year after the Grenfell tragedy, the internal battles within the Labour Party and the predictions of Conservative council losses, things have been more intense.

Even though the statutory processes are allowed to carry on, many developers and authorities are keeping politically controversial decisions away from committees until the other side of the 3 May local government elections. The politically charged atmosphere leads to refusals of permission against officers’ recommendations which impacts initially the boroughs’ housing delivery, particularly regarding estate regeneration schemes without which the London housing target will not be met, and secondly leads to officers spending time defending appeals rather than coping with other applications.

An example of this situation is the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) initiative which has now been halted by council leader of the London Borough of Haringey Claire Kober. Numerous objections have been raised for the initiative as it was seen as the involving a private sector developer which could lead to planning applications against planning policy. As Simon Ricketts queries in his blog - how the London housing target will be met if this opportunity to increase housing at scale, including affordable housing will be lost?

Ouseley J in his judgment for the HDV case argued in favour of the Council stating the Council’s purpose by entering into the HDV was not that of a property investor but to “use and develop its own land to its best advantage so that it can achieve the housing, employment and growth or regeneration objectives that it has laid down”.

It is strongly argued the housing numbers that the Government is targeting will not be achieved without an active and engaged private sector but it will be interesting how this will take place. Labour believe compulsory purchase orders are the way forward:

“Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted (…) this slows down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.”

However, we believe solutions to the housing crisis will only be given after creative thinking, depoliticisation of the process and collaboration between public and private sector.

A number of safe Boroughs are up for grabs including Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet

Authored by Michaela Kekeri. 


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