Head of national planning body questions London mayor’s plan for homes

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The chair of the Planning Officers’ Society has described Sadiq Khan’s housing targets in the draft London Plan as “ridiculous and clearly unachievable”.

Mike Kiely, one of the UK’s most experienced local authority planners, said the panel of inspectors scrutinising the plan had been right to recommend a drastic cut to the overall housing target contained in the plan, because of an over-reliance on ramping up development on small sites.

Last month the inspectors recommended cutting the London Plan’s proposed housing target from 66,000 homes per year to 52,000 because the higher number would be “setting up the plan to fail.”

>> Analysis — Cut down to size: Scrutinising the London Plan

Their report revealed the inspectors even considered ruling the plan “unsound” and determining that it be withdrawn, but decided against this course because of the knock-on impact upon London boroughs from the resulting delay and uncertainty.

The inspectors based their conclusion on the draft Plan’s small sites policy, which assumed 24,500 homes per year coming from these sites, despite the fact the historic average is around 15,000. In one borough, Bexley, the draft plan proposed increasing the number of new homes delivered from small sites eight-fold.

Speaking to Housing Today, Kiely, a former chief planner at Croydon who advised Bromley during the public examination of the plan, said: “They (the GLA) are right to optimise the amount of homes but not at the expense of damaging areas. There’s no way a sensible person believes that a borough like Bexley could achieve that range of increase.”

He said the GLA’s methodology for identifying small sites had resulted in numbers that were “ridiculous and clearly unachievable”. He also said that the admission the inspectors’ considered declaring the draft London Plan unsound was without precedent.

Likewise Greg Hill, deputy chief executive at mid-sized housebuilder Hill, said: “The small sites target is laudable but it’s unfeasible and unrealistic: the resource intensiveness of the planning process doesn’t enable you to facilitate the delivery of that many sites.”

The Plan inspectors called on mayor Khan to institute a review of the green belt in order to find land on which to deliver the identified need for homes. But the Guardian reported last month that Khan will refuse to change course either on the green belt or on the inspectors’ recommendation the Plan supports expansion at Heathrow.

Khan is due to respond to the inspectors by 8 December, after which responsibility for the final outcome is put over to the secretary of state for housing, currently Robert Jenrick.

If Khan does refuse to accept the inspectors’ recommendations, it will be up to the housing secretary following the election to determine whether or not to force Khan to undertake the review of London’s Green Belt recommended by the panel.