Eric Pickles’ planning changes are putting economic recovery at risk

The Government’s proposed gutting of the planning system is a threat to London’s economic recovery, as the London Assembly Labour Group explained in its consultation response.

In a piece that appears in today’s New Statesman, I explain the particular threat to a growth area that the Prime Minister has identified as a pet project: Tech City.

Eric Pickles’ planning changes are putting economic recovery at risk

Businesses risk eviction, higher rents and no space to grow if government changes to planning policies are approved.

Tech City is under threat from planning changes. Photo: Getty

Four years ago the Prime Minister proclaimed his desire to help make East London one of the world’s great technology centres. We have made significant progress since then, but now proposed changes to the planning system threaten to put this growth at risk. East London is one of the best places for technology companies in the world but we face significant competition from global cities such as Berlin and should be building on our current momentum.

Whilst large technology companies are important, ambitious and entrepreneurial start-ups and SMEs form the foundation of any technology hub. They bring the ideas, skills and drive for innovation which push the boundaries. Perhaps most importantly, small companies create jobs.

The introduction of ‘Permitted Development Rights’ which are being consulted on by the Department for Communities and Local Government would mean that offices and workspaces could be converted into flats overnight without the need for any planning permission. This would have a devastating effect on small businesses in areas like Tech City where housing property values far outstrip those of commercial buildings, heavily incentivising property owners to convert to residential.  Councils already have the powers to allow conversions where appropriate– but this also means the ability to protect office space, ensure good standards of housing and encourage balanced mixes of dwellings and commercial space alongside the infrastructure they rely on. We strongly believe that affordable workspace is just as important as affordable housing in creating a sustainable, balanced economy.

Permitted Development takes that right out of councils’ hands and removes their ability to help build the ecosystems and areas where people want to live, work and succeed.

Some boroughs where Permitted Development Rights were trialled have already lost a significant amount of their office space. This has, in many cases, seen businesses evicted, while others face an uphill challenge to find affordable office space.

Tech City is just one of the areas under threat from these changes. Through the work of the local businesses, local councils and Central Government, the ecosystem which has built up over the last decade in East London has significantly regenerated the area, stimulating thousands of new high tech jobs but also making it vastly more attractive to residential development.

Whilst we recognise the need for new housing in the capital this cannot come at the expense of jobs and London’s economic recovery. During the trial phase of the new planning regimen areas like Tech City, were granted an exemption but this is now set to be removed as the policy is made permanent. Having seen the impact on other areas we are clear that Old Street roundabout and the Shoreditch area more broadly would be at serious risk of redevelopment as housing. The cluster is beginning to spread to other areas such as Haggerston, but affordable workspace is still in limited supply in these areas.

Reform of the planning system is welcome but Permitted Development threatens to undermine the ability of companies, particularly start-ups and SMEs, often supported by coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators, to find the affordable facilities they need to set-up, expand and create jobs. For that reason, and given his personal commitment to the technology sector, we call upon the Prime Minister to support current exemptions, and help us to grow the economy, create jobs and opportunities.

Nicky Gavron AM is the London Assembly Labour Group Spokesperson on Planning; James Governor is a businessman who runs Shoreditch Village Hall and Shoreditch Works

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Labour Group: planning reforms are a threat to London’s economic recovery

The London Assembly Labour Group recently responded to the Government’s drive to dismantle the planning system by introducing and expanding a series of permitted development rights. Allowing property owners to convert offices, light industrial, and warehouses into flats without the need for planning permission is a reckless measure which sacrifices jobs. It results in the wrong types of and sub-standard housing in the wrong locations, and without any contribution of affordable housing or Section 106.

Last month at Mayor’s Question Time I challenged the Mayor to stand up to the Government that he’s now campaigning to join as an MP. The question sparked off a fierce debate, with Assembly Members from all parties agreeing that the Mayor needed to do more to stand up for London’s employment space.

We now know that the Mayor refused to take a tough stance. The letter that he sent to Government is only tinkering at the edges.

In contrast, the Labour group’s response to the Government consultation was clear: this is bad policy and should not be implemented. We noted that the proposals threaten to harm London’s economic recovery and would damage the integrity of the mixed-use nature of its neighbourhoods, whilst resulting in sub-standard residential units, as Local Planning Authorities will have no control either over the size and mix of dwellings, nor over provision of infrastructure or standards.

You can read our response in full here (pdf): Assemly Lab Group – technical consultation on planning response

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boris set to approve Mount Pleasant scheme

At a hearing from 10.30am this morning, Boris Johnson is set to wave through the controversial Mount Pleasant planning application after having taken the decision out of the hands of the local boroughs. The move came after Royal Mail Group, the recently privatised company behind the development, wrote to the Mayor asking him to take the decision out of the hands of the local authorities.

Whilst the Mayor could still decide to refuse permission or to delay his decision, a report posted on the GLA website indicates he is set to approve.


The local boroughs, Camden and Islington Councils, argue that the site could offer 40% affordable housing and still provide significant profits to the developers. But the plan Boris is considering only requires for 23.9% of the housing to be affordable. This means 111 fewer affordable homes than Camden and Islington had called for.

And that “affordable” housing doesn’t smell very sweet, even by that name. An article in the Guardian reveals that tenants in the 98 “affordable” homes “could be charged up to £1,170 a month for a one-bedroom flat and up to £1,690 for a two-bedroom flat.” This means a family would require an annual income of £100,000 for these properties to be considered affordable.

There are also concerns about the quality of the design, which will see 15-storey buildings tower over a predominantly low- and mid-rise area. The developer could have taken a cue from the much-heralded redevelopment at nearby Kings Cross, but instead decided to indulge in the recent glut of tall buildings inappropriate for the area.

To prove this point, the local residents group the Mount Pleasant Association have developed an alternative proposal with Create Streets (open their report here). They say they can get 8-16% more homes on the site whilst generating higher values by pursuing a traditional street-based design.

With such alternative approaches emerging, it makes sense for the Mayor to take a step back and delay his decision. This is an important site in the heart of the capital – let’s hope the Mayor takes it as an opportunity to get the best development possible for Londoners.

You can watch the hearing live from the Chamber in City Hall at 10.30 on the webcast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

£12 billion Earl’s Court scheme value hidden to avoid affordable housing

Originally posted on West Ken & Gibbs Green - The People's Estates:

EC ariel

After nearly two years of fighting to get the viability assessment of the Earl’s Court scheme, Capco and Kensington & Chelsea finally gave in to the Information Commissioner’s demand that the report be released. The Councils and the developer had good reason to keep the assessment produced by DVS secret. The scheme is not worth £8 billion, but £12 billion – and that was in September 2012. So imagine what it’s worth now!

Amazingly the DVS review showed that the scheme was not viable on the basis of Capco’s assumptions, a reason in itself not to approve the scheme. But it was also critical of Capco’s reluctance to co-operate with the assessment. Throughout their review, DVS questioned the calculations and methodologies that were used to justify 11% of so called ‘affordable’ housing.

In their defence, Capco claims that “the DVS had full access to all relevant Capco information”. But…

View original 494 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Labour Group responds to Mayoral Development Corporation proposal

Since 2011, the Mayor has been able to designate certain areas of London as Mayoral development areas, with issues such as infrastructure, regeneration, and planning controlled not by the local authority but by a Mayoral Development Corporation. The power has been used sparingly, with the only one so far established covering the Olympic Park area.

Now, Mayor Johnson proposes the creation of a second MDC, this time for the Old Oak and Park Royal area.

Currently a huge stretch of railway land and the huge (and hugely important) Park Royal industrial estate, the intersection of High Speed 2 and Crossrail 1 will turn this often-over looked part of west London into the focus for London’s biggest regeneration area. The Mayor expects that, in Old Oak Common alone, there is capacity for up to 24,000 new homes and 55,000 new jobs.

The Assembly Planning Committee, which I chair, held a session on Old Oak Common and Park Royal, including on the Mayor’s vision for it and the MDC proposal, this summer. You can access the transcript here.

The expected boundary of the proposed MDC.

The expected boundary of the proposed MDC.

As planning spokesperson for the London Assembly Labour group, I broadly welcomed the creation of an MDC for Old Oak and Park Royal. We believe a Development Corporation could provide the strategic direction and authority necessary to ensure it is delivered successfully for both new and existing communities. However, we harbour concerns about the way the MDC will be structured and the policies it will implement. The MDC must maintain a strong position for the affected local authorities, engage in a genuinely consultative process with local communities, and result in a Local Plan and planning decisions which reflect priorities on issues such as industrial land and affordable housing.

You can read the Labour Group response to MDC proposal for Old Oak and Park Royal.

We’ve submitted our response, but our fight isn’t over. We want to make sure that the MDC is best positioned to create the sort of regeneration that satisfies London’s need for housing and jobs whilst addressing the priorities of existing local communities.

The Assembly will have a chance to vote on the MDC proposal in October.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Councils can solve the housing crisis

If we’re going to get the homes we need, Councils must be a part of the solution. But the cap on Council borrowing is proving a barrier.

That’s why I co-signed a letter, published today in the Guardian, calling for lifting the remaining cap on Council borrowing for housing.


London’s housing crisis is deepening by the day (Report, 17 September). Average house prices now stand at £500,000. Private rents are double the national average. Council housing is being depleted as a third of all right-to-buy sales are in London. Yet last year house building in the capital fell to its lowest level in a decade. Ed Miliband’s pledge that the next Labour government will build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 has been welcomed across the country, and especially in London. But in order to achieve it we need local authorities to be freed to deliver a new generation of council housing. Labour councils across London are building new council homes for the first time in decades. But they could do so much more if the arbitrary cap on borrowing to build was lifted. This would allow them to invest in housing – borrowing prudentially, as they can already do for other purposes. Borrowing to build homes pays for itself in the long term via rents. Indeed, no other EU country counts public borrowing for housing towards national debt.

In 1979 councils were building a third of all the new homes being built annually. When the Thatcher government choked off council house building, the private sector never filled the gap. History tells us that the private sector alone cannot deliver the homes we need to solve our housing crisis. Michael Lyons will shortly publish his independent review of housing policy as part of Labour’s policy review. We hope that he will recommend lifting the remaining cap on council borrowing for housing and that the Labour leadership includes a commitment to lift this cap in the next manifesto.
Tom Copley (London assembly member, Labour), Nicky Gavron AM(London assembly, Labour, Planning), Cllr James Murray (London borough of Islington), Cllr Jasbir Anand (LB Ealing), Cllr Damien Egan(LB Lewisham), Cllr Julian Fulbrook (LB Camden), Cllr Phil Glanville(LB Hackney), Cllr Ahmet Oykener (LB Enfield), Cllr Alan Strickland(LB Haringay), Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth), Andrew Dismore AM (Hendon), Lee Godfrey (Kingston and Surbiton), Rupa Huq(Ealing Central and Acton), Sarah Jones (Croydon Central), Cllr Andrew Judge (Wimbledon), Chris Summers (Uxbridge and South Ruislip),Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boris needs to be successful on permitted development this time round

The Government’s plans on permitted development rights are a threat to London and its economic recovery. Allowing property owners to convert offices, light industrial, and warehouses into flats without the need for planning permission is a reckless measure which sacrifices jobs. It results in the wrong types of and sub-standard housing in the wrong locations, and without any contribution of affordable housing or Section 106.

Boris has promised to stand up for London. But he did that before, and he didn’t get the best deal possible.

That’s why earlier today, the Mayor came under cross-party fire for failing to successfully use his influence to block Government plans which threaten London’s employment space. In a series of exchanges following my question at this month’s Mayor’s Question time, the Mayor agreed to write to the Government and pledged that “we will secure changes” to the proposal which would mean offices, light industrial, and warehousing could be converted into housing without any need for planning permission.

There was wide agreement amongst both Labour and Tory AMs, but Boris seemed utterly unaware of the threat posed by the proposal.

The Government proposals would allow property owners to convert employment spaces – offices, light industrial facilities, and warehouses – into flats overnight without the need for planning permission. The policy was originally introduced for offices on a temporary basis last year but is now set to be made permanent, having already resulted in the loss of half a million square metres of office floorspace in London, most of which was occupied by businesses and organisations.

A national survey by RICS earlier this summer found the permitted development contributed to the largest reduction of commercial space since records were kept. Now the Government proposes making the policy permanent, removing exemptions that were granted under the temporary measure, and extending permitted development rights to any light industrial and warehousing use.

This is a reckless measure which sacrifices jobs. It results in the wrong types of and sub-standard housing in the wrong locations, and without any contribution of affordable housing or Section 106.

There is a huge amount at stake for London. Permitted development drives up the land value of employment space – even where property owners don’t convert, they will use it as a reason to drive up rents, forcing businesses to close or to leave London.

The Mayor boasted about his influence in Westminster during the last campaign but when the Government decided to allow the permitted development for offices to residential he only managed some exemptions for a few parts of London. Now, just over a year later, they’re taking even those away. Now that he’s a Tory candidate, I hope Boris has more influence because he certainly failed to get the best deal for London as Mayor.

The Assembly’s Labour group will be responding to the consultation, which closes on 26 September. I will post our response here.

In the meantime, you can watch the exchange between me and Boris here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment