Author: Cyril Richert
The biannual planning forum, the informal information sharing group organised by the Council for community representatives, was again organised on video-call, due to the current Covid restrictions. Although not ideal, it allows for a good level of participation and works well. A large part of the agenda was dedicated to the draft Local Plan, and therefore, we will only focus on the matter in this article.
The Local Plan consultation
The draft local Plan was presented by both Andrea Kitzberger-Smith (Planning Policy and Design Team Manager) who focused on the structure of the plan and Adam Hutchings (Principal Planner/Policy) who talked about details of the plan and changes.
The new Local Plan for Wandsworth should cover the 15-years period 2023-2038. Before the ‘Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004’ (in September 2004) which instated a series of planning documents (Core Strategy, DMPD-Development Management Policies Document and SSAD-Site Specific Allocations Document) known together as a ‘Local Development Framework’, local authorities were stating policies in the Unitary Development Plan (UDP). Wandsworth first LDF was established in 2009 and now we are back to one single document again, called the Local Plan. However the new single document will be split into… 3 sections with very similar contents (including 71 site specific allocations). There will also be a new Sustainability Appraisal document.
There is also a new open design policy and a new tall building policy, which will be likely to attract scrutiny and generate comments from community groups. Especially in light of the current Covid pandemic, and with the question of viability looming above planning authorities, tall buildings should (again) gain attention, especially for 2 reasons which explains why higher means often less affordable:
- build costs increases rapidly with higher density (deeper foundations, lifts, tight fire safety…etc), therefore profit decreases if a cap on selling price is required;
- service charge will increase with taller buildings and therefore the “affordability” will decrease when adding that element.
During the meeting we were puzzled by the new housing strategy target, setting an “aspiration of 50% of all new homes to be affordable“. A simple explanation could be the need to match the London Plan Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Guidance which sets the target to 50% (35% social rented, 15% intermediate) in all new developments (this target existed under Ken Livingston but was ditched by Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, before being reinstated by Sadiq Khan).
Sticking unrealistic targets, without the political will to enforce them, is likely to be a major discussion, that will probably go up to the government Inspector hearing. It is worth noting that during the previous hearing, the Inspector criticised the way site policies were considered, saying that:
“there are no policies to confirm that development should be undertaken in accordance with the site allocations […] the documents as a whole are ineffective.”
Other minor points concern a new shared-living policy. According to officers, the policy is trying to resist co-living expansion and developers will need to demonstrate that the site is not suitable for normal development. This is particularly interesting in view of the recent planning decision on Hazel Court, while the proposal was recommended for approval by the officers but eventually refused by Councillors. The decision is currently under appeal but that could be used as “emerging policy” in order to prevent the development.
For town centres, a new policy is proposed to protect local shops if there is a loss of premises within 400m. However, we wonder how this could have worked on the Arding & Hobbs proposal for example, as the approved scheme is scrapping about 60% of the retail area.
Last but not least, especially while Wandsworth Council wants to be the “greener” London borough, there is a focus on sustainability and new requirements for trees. However, question come as if this will be a “wishful” thinking with recent examples of B&Q where trees protected by TPO were ignored, and more recently, a series of small planning applications on the same building managed to ditch nearly all tree and vegetation requirement.
8 Weeks consultation for more than 600 pages
The statutory Consultation period will last until 1 March 2021, for unpaid volunteers in community groups to scrutinize the dense 416 pages of the Local Plan, the 163 pages of the new Sustainability appraisal and the 26 policies maps.
The poor consideration given by Wandsworth Council to previous consultations does not encourage the consequent amount of effort necessary to provide a detailed response. Just as a reminder:
- CJAG’s proposal for planning reforms published in May 2018: No response from the Council, despite repeated promises from Cllr Guy Humphries, current chair of the Planning Application Committee for Wandsworth
- Consultation on Community involvement in January 2019: No response/No output
- Consultation on draft Local Plan in March 2019: No response/No output
- Workshop to discuss the future Local Plan on 17 January 2020 + written contribution from CJAG: No output
In a positive tone, Andrea Kitzberger-Smith said: “It is the opportunity to say if we got it wrong“, as she explained that due to Covid, they have drafted the document mostly internally, without the possibility to go out and visit sites (“It’s high-level guidance on each area” added Adam Hutchings). However, Andrea Kitzberger-Smith stated that when this stage will end, there will be no more input before the government Planning Inspector hearing and she fell short of any commitment when the Battersea Society expressed the idea of small 1h meeting with them to go through the main concerns.
To conclude the meeting, there was an interesting – albeit short – discussion on the future of planning, in views of fundamental changes currently considered by the government to modify the way the National Planning Policy Framework will apply. Andrea Kitzberger-Smith confirmed that there are possibilities that some planning powers could be removed from local authorities, with a sort of IT system to decide on developments. That’s not very far from the Planning Application decision tool that we have developed to match Wandsworth ludicrous planning approvals and that you can try HERE.