London Plan backtracks on small sites promise

The year has not begun well for small developers and self-builders.

 First, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has been forced to backtrack over his small sites policy.

 The ambition contained in the Draft London Plan was to make smaller, publicly owned sites available to small developers. He wanted to increase the number of small builders operating in the capital and lessen the reliance on mainstream housebuilders.

 But after lobbying by London’s outer boroughs, a panel of inspectors said the Mayor’s policy was not“realistically achievable”.

 Last week the Mayor accepted the inspectors’ recommendation despite his decision to oppose some of their other key suggestions, such as a review of London’s green belt.

 The Mayor’s original target was to build 24,000 homes on small sites. This has now been halved to just under12,000 while the general housing target has been reduced by a fifth, from nearly 65,000 homes per year to just over 52,000.

 Local authorities had complained the methodology used by the GLA to identify small sites was ‘flawed’ while others said they don’t have the resources to identify suitable small sites for development

 But behind the difference of opinion is an issue of motivation.

 Councils have no incentive either to identify small sites or to deal with small developers because the return isn’t enough for them.

A large development will generate a huge amount of resource via the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payment but one or two units brings no or few benefits in terms of affordable housing and amenities

But there are other reasons to be concerned about the Mayor’s surrender over what was a key plank of his housing programme and that’s quality, according to Russell Curtis of RCKa.

 He says: “The inevitable consequence is that we'll end up with large developments, in inappropriate locations and of poor quality, scattered across outer London while those areas best placed to deliver gentle intensification remain largely untouched.”

 Gus Zogolovitch, co-founder of DeveloperCollective said: “This is a lost opportunity and a great shame. Research reveals that most of us don’t want to live in large bland new build developments, and small sites give architects and SME developers the opportunity to deliver high quality well designed new homes. Big housebuilders like Berkeley Homes and Barratts are simply not set up to do this”.

 And in a further blow to those wanting to build their own home, research by the National Custom and Self Build Association has found that councils are removing potential self-builders from local registers.

 Under the governments Right to Build policy introduced in 2016, the law requires councils in England to hold a local register for anyone who wants to build their own home.

 The council then had three years to deliver the same number of self-build plots to match supply and demand. The three-year deadline passed in October 2019 but according to the NCaSBA, more than 8,500 names have been taken off registers, leaving 46,500 on them.

 NCaSBA chief executive, Andrew Baddeley-Chappell said: “ A growing number of councils are undertaking action designed to sabotage the legislation.”

 Zogolovitch said: “Sadly, rather than councils embracing the benefits of custom build and self build, they’ve set out to frustrate the process and reduce the theoretical demand on their registers. It’s pure short-term thinking – as self-builders and custom builders create long lasting roots, are generally permanent members of the community and create higher quality, better designed and more environmentally friendly homes that are better for society than the bland housing estates that councils seem to prefer.”

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