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The Planning System is Broken, but it can be fixed

Updated: May 13

Clare Delmar, Listen to Locals


Last evening’s Listen to Locals hustings with mayoral candidates (and deputies) and last week’s hustings with SW London GLA candidates were remarkable in many ways

• The unexplained absence of the incumbent mayor – who rebuffed our invitation twice, having had to reschedule the original event due to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh;

• The quantity and quality of topics covered in 1.5 hours – panelists and attendees not only agreeing on problems and their sources, but bubbling with ideas to fix them;

• The powerful statements presented by community groups across London – and the many moments felt by attendees where they saw their own concerns mirrored and even amplified

Most hustings expose divisions between participants; these revealed a powerful consensus around community involvement in planning. All candidates agreed that early involvement of communities leads to better planning outcomes, all had well thought out ways to involve local communities, and all felt that it’s time to address a planning system that is inherently broken.

This has to be an important step towards change.

Along with several colleagues from the Mortlake Brewery Community Group, I launched Listen to Locals 2 months ago to join up community groups like ours across London that are experiencing a broken planning system, and to demand that the Mayor of London listen to locals and effect change.

Our experience in Mortlake with the proposed redevelopment of the Stag Brewery is an exemplar of the broken system, and it was both maddening and encouraging to hear elements of our story acknowledged and repeated by community leaders and candidates in our recent hustings.

Some examples:

1. Consultants

It was generally agreed that the consulting industry supporting developers and planning officials alike produces analyses that are neither objective or accurately reflective of local circumstances.

Two very recent examples of this are manifest in Mortlake. Transport consultants Stantec reported earlier this year to the GLA on behalf of developer Reselton Properties (a subsidiary of Singapore listed property giant City Developments Limited) on the impact on traffic from the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, highlighting the capacity for traffic flow and parking on local area Thames Bank --- which experiences 28-ft tides from the River Thames daily, rendering the area impassable to through traffic and dangerous to parked vehicles on a regular basis.

Similarly, Health planning consultant Hatch Regenerisreported to LBRuT in its Health Impact Assessment October 2019 that the addition of 840 new homes would have no effect on primary healthcare services – and the “updated” version to the GLA in July 2020 reaffirmed this, even though the scheme had ballooned to 1250 homes. And this version made no mention of the pandemic and how this might impact a 90% population increase in Mortlake, manifested in a dense high-rise development.

2. Developers

As a Singapore-based property developer, City Developments Limited (CDL) has a London face in the form of ReseltonProperties, who has done very little to engage the community in Mortlake. The first we learned of the increase in units from 843 to 1250 on the Stag site was when the GLA initiated a “reconsultation” on the application after the Mayor’s call-in. This increase has increased heights, reduced light and compromised vital green space, and it is disingenuous to say the least that CDL promotes itself vigorously as “one of the world’s most sustainable developers”.

3. Planning authorities

As the planning authority on the Stag Brewery redevelopment, City Hall has made it all but impossible for community groups like ours, not to mention local residents, to understand what is being proposed for their community or indeed to have their voices heard in the decision about it. Searching for documents on the GLA website is an exercise in futlity and obfuscation, with over 100 documents listed in no particular order, with no clear titles and no search or navigation guide to access information. It took me, a self-confessed data nerd, days to finally locate the Health Impact Assessment referenced earlier.

City Hall has also demonstrated preferred access to the developer in advancing plans for the site; An FOI request submitted by the MBCG last October revealed 23 meetings between City Hall planning officials and the applicant over the 5 months from call-in, while MBCG requests were ignored or refused.

Mortlake is not unusual or alone in experiencing the fallout of our broken planning system, and it was encouraging to hear this affirmed in our recent candidate hustings. But it was even more affirming to hear some genuinely thoughtful and insightful ideas on how to reform it.

These included:

• A commitment to a Mayoral Statement of Community Involvement, as advocated by our colleagues at Collecitve Community Action, which would set out terms of engagement between planning authorities and local communities, to be reviewed and reported on regularly

• New Standards for community engagement to be set and applied to consultants, developers and Councils, aiming to establish and enforce community engagement as a critical element in the planning process

• New approaches to transparency and access to all planning information, including meetings, documents, and digital exchanges

• A review of the ONS data underlying current housing targets

• A review of public land available for new build outside of Green Belt

• A shift of focus from housing to communities, with authority given to “placemaking” over “housebuilding”

• A review of the learnings from the pandemic and its impact on local communities, to include health inequalities and effects of density, light deprivation , air quality and access to green space followed by a framework to integrate these learnings into planning policy

Listen to Locals welcomes these approaches to planning reform, and will continue to campaign and advocate for local voices to be heard, regardless of who our next Mayor of London is. We wish all the candidates the very best in next week’s election.

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