Proposed changes could hinder ability to provide office space

Aerial view from the east

Source: GMJ and City of London Corporation

Aerial view of how the City of London’s eastern tall buildings cluster is expected to look by 2026

The City of London has voiced fears that proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, aimed at increasing the pace of housing delivery, will disadvantage the Sqare Mile’s business-focused planning regime.

A draft response to the government’s proposals warns that “a minor wording change” in relation to the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development would weaken the corporation’s ability to shape development within its bounds.

In the report, which is due to go before the City’s planning and transportation committee next week, assistant director for planning policy Peter Shadbolt said the wording change, in conjunction with the introduction of a new “housing delivery test”, could lead to homes coming forward in “inappropriate places”, potentially undermining the City’s ability to deliver new offices.

“Within the City of London, this would mean that national, London-wide and local policy frameworks which support the City’s national and international cluster of businesses will be given less weight than listed environmental and heritage designations when considered against the presumption in favour of sustainable development,” Shadbolt said of the wording change.

“To ensure that the City’s primary business role is given sufficient weight alongside the need for housing, the NPPF should be amended such that other adopted policy objectives can be considered when determining the weight to be attached to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.”

The NPPF was originally introduced under the coalition government in 2012 and aimed to consolidate many thousands of pages of planning policy into a single source of guidance.

In March, the government published a package of reform proposals aimed at underscoring pledges to ramp up housing delivery to the 300,000-a-year level by the mid-2020s. Last year 217,000 new homes were delivered in England, according to housing minister Dominic Raab.

Guildhall Art Gallery

Source: JTB Media Creation, inc / alamy stock photo

The City of London’s Guildhall

As part of the package of proposed measures, local authorities would be given new duties to cooperate and agree cross-boundary statements of common ground on housing delivery. The measures also include the new housing delivery test, which increases councils’ responsibility for delivering enough new homes to meet local need, and new transparency guidance on viability statements.

Shadbolt’s report said that the new requirements in relation to statements of common ground “could add significant complexity” to the existing duty-to-cooperate rules, and delay strategic planning at the local level because of the requirements for statements to be formally agreed between neighbouring authorities.

Shadbolt’s report added that the three-year cycle for the housing delivery test was out of kilter with the current five-year housing supply timeframe by which local authorities are measured.

He said that while the City consistently met its own five-year housing supply targets, it was reliant on a few large sites for housing delivery and that a three-year test would be more vulnerable to market fluctuations.

“Opportunities for new housing in the City are limited and housing delivery has tended to be ‘lumpy’ responding principally to market conditions,” Shadbolt said.

“The rigid application of the proposed housing delivery test does not reflect the reality of housing delivery in the City and the presumption in favour of sustainable development could lead to housing coming forward in inappropriate places, potentially undermining the City’s ability to deliver much needed office development.”

Shadbolt said the City was in favour of the draft NPPF revisions’ proposals for “enhanced transparency” in viability statements, arguing that they would assist in community engagement with plan-making and the determination of applications.

However he conceded that there would “remain occasions” where some commercially confidential information needed to go unpublished.

The City’s planning and transportation committee meets at 10.30am on Tuesday to consider his report.