Survey shows councils lack resources to tackle climate emergency and recover from Covid-19

The Government’s proposed overhaul of the planning system is “ill-conceived, rushed and damaging” and does nothing to address the barriers still holding back the delivery of new homes, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has warned.

In his formal response to the Government’s ‘white paper’ for reforming the planning system, the Mayor is clear Ministers’ plans could alienate communities across the capital, undermine local accountability in planning decisions, and make it far harder for London to build the homes and infrastructure it needs.

Under the Government’s proposals, announced in August, mayors and local councils would have less power to ensure new developments include genuinely affordable homes and have the backing of local people. They would also mean far less certainty over the delivery of improvements to local infrastructure and transport, which are often an important condition of planning approval.

The plans also mean councils could have to hand back affordable homes to developers, to then be put on the private market, if housing market conditions change.

Since Sadiq was elected, more than 40 per cent more homes have been delivered in London than under the previous mayor’s last term. In 2018/19 the capital delivered 15 per cent of all new homes in England on just 1.2 per cent of its land and London has more than 300,000 new homes in the pipeline.

The Mayor has met every affordable housing target the Government has set: last year the Mayor started in excess of 17,000 new genuinely affordable homes in London – more than at any time since City Hall records began in 2003 – and is doing everything he can to keep the capital building despite the challenges of Covid-19.

A London-wide survey of local authorities by City Hall reveals their staffing capacity  in planning, urban design and other related fields – known collectively as ‘placeshaping’ –  has shrunk by 19 per cent since 2014. Many councils lack the resources to deliver the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system – while more than three quarters (76.6 per cent) say they don’t have the expertise in environmental sustainability or zero-carbon to meet the challenges of the climate emergency.

Crucially, every authority sees uncertainty over funding now and in the future as the key barrier to hiring enough skilled staff in these fields – and nearly four in 10 see the challenges facing the sector becoming more acute as the city recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Mayor has taken steps to help local authorities address capacity issues, including founding Public Practice – a not-for-profit social enterprise which places professionals in the built environment sector in public bodies across London.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “When I became Mayor I made it clear one of my top priorities was to tackle the housing crisis and try to overcome the legacy I inherited – and last year we started more genuinely affordable homes than any year since record began.

“Let me be clear: this is an ill-conceived, rushed and damaging overhaul of the planning system which has been dictated from Whitehall and takes away democratic control and local scrutiny from our planning process.

“Quite simply, taking power away from local communities is the last thing the capital, or our country, needs. A one-size-fits-all planning system – dictated from Whitehall and with decision-making taken away from communities – just doesn’t work, whether you’re in London, Liverpool or Leeds.

“My team have worked tirelessly over the last four years to develop a new London Plan which seeks to tackle the challenges the city faces, support growth which takes local communities with it, and deliver both genuinely affordable housing and important infrastructure.

“I’m urging the Secretary of State to abandon these reforms, approve the new London Plan and let the capital get on with building the homes Londoners urgently need.”

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, said: “Boroughs are absolutely committed to delivering more affordable homes – but the government’s planning reforms will make the situation worse, not better.

“Councils play a crucial role in the planning system, upholding quality standards and ensuring new development includes affordable housing for our communities. This is why we strongly oppose moves towards a planning free-for-all, which would lead to lower quality and fewer affordable homes in the capital.

“Instead of undermining democratic accountability in the planning system, the government should work with us and provide long-term investment to support affordable housing delivery. Boroughs are clear that inadequate funding levels – rather than planning regulations – are the key factor behind London’s housing pressures.”

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