James Parker looks at how the new London Plan could transform the capital, as it puts high-density housing high on the agenda

ondon Mayor Sadiq Khan’s London Plan, governing all London’s planning decisions, is still in draft form. When finally published next year it could have big repercussions for the shape of London’s housing. However, many believe that this is not coming soon enough, to tackle the triple threat of London’s crisis of affordability, the stigma attached to high-density housing, and the stranglehold of planning which has historically prevented more effective alternatives flourishing. London now contains 8.7 million people, and forecasts of 11 million by 2050 are not fanciful. The Mayor has responded by increasing housebuilding targets to 65,000 homes per year, but estate agents have predicted that only half that will be built in reality.


The yawning gap between supply and demand, particularly in affordable homes, is well known. What is less widely discussed is how building at greater density could both help to close the gap in numbers terms, but also amplify the benefits of city living for residents, bringing infrastructure closer to homes and reducing car use. Upping density has traditionally been associated with tower blocks, but Victorian terraces and mid-rise mansion blocks can in some cases offer greater density, and much better amenity. According to Tim Burgess, director of CoveBurgess architects, increasing density is “undoubtedly the most effective solution to the housing crisis.” He adds: “The idea that we continue to build houses away from where people work couldn’t be more misguided for a sustainable future.” He explains further : “Density determines footfall on the streets and footfall is the key that unlocks city life. If you are fortunate enough to live on Manhattan Island, you need not leave your city block to get all that you need, from cafes to culture.”

Removing density limits

Khan’s team at the GLA, led by dynamic deputy mayor Jules Pipe, have made a major intervention in order to try and push the density of future development, as part of the revision of the London Plan last December. The launch of the draft plan came with the headline that Khan has “ripped up planning rules,” – partly based around his team having removed the upper limit for density. They key aspects underpinning the new London Plan when it comes to density are as follows: • A new concept of ‘making the best use of land’, as an overarching holistic objective feeding many of the policy areas, superseding previous requirements to “maximise” or “optimise” the use of land

• Linking greater density with higher design quality • Abolish the ‘Density Matrix’ previously used by GLA to set a limit for each Borough (based on number of habitable rooms,



and dwellings per hectare)

• Borough councils to work with developers to establish the correct density on site by site basis, (key factors being transport connectivity and infrastructure) • Presumption in favour of ‘small sites’ of 25 homes of fewer, supported by targets for each Borough.

Car trouble

Previously the GLA permitted higher density in areas with a high Public Transport Access Level (PTAL) score, in the belief that a greater number of homes could be supported because of good access to public transport. Avoiding the need to prioritise car use in developments, this remains a key driver for the GLA as the Mayor looks to reduce emissions across the capital. This is one reason why, as a recent blog by consultant Deloitte pointed out, what “constitutes the ‘best use of land’ is likely to cause plenty of debate.” In ending the previous cap, the new Plan theoretically makes it possible to build high-density housing where deemed appropriate, and this will be controversial in many cases. At the 22 January meeting of the London Assembly Planning Committee, GLA Conservative member Tony Arbour complained that because it was proposed that new residential development over 800 m2

would not need off street parking, the new London Plan

would create “inconvenience in suburbs,” and that there “wasn’t a proper realisation that there are very many Londons, and in outer


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