The Mayor of London will hold a public hearing on the Stag Brewery planning application on Tuesday – and the outcome will set a crucial precedent for all of London. Below I set out why I believe this scheme must not be approved.
Density: In London Plans prior to the new 2021 Plan, housing density was regulated with a much admired ‘density matrix’ in which the Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL) was the main determinant for each kind of area. That matrix would have permitted about 250 habitable rooms per hectare on the Stag site, less than half of what is now proposed — 598. The Matrix was widely disregarded but the mayor chose to abandon it in the new plan, rather than enforce it, replacing it with decisions by Boroughs on the basis of design considerations. This choice was hotly contested with objectors arguing that developers would use ‘viability’ arguments to ratchet up the density of their schemes. That is what must have happened in this case.
High Buildings policy In the new London Plan hinges on the Boroughs developing robust definitions of what “tall” means in their localities and plans showing where they can and cannot go. Richmond has such plans but it appears that, in this case, buildings of a height greater than the surrounding buildings are being proposed without all of the policy conditions being satisfied. This is not a good start for the policy approach of the new London Plan.
Affordability. The new London Plan sets targets and minimum requirements for the delivery of various categories of low rent and intermediate housing and it was the failure of the first scheme here to satisfy the Mayor’s requirements which led to the call-in. The scheme now being considered has a larger number of affordable units but a proportion, 30%, still well below both the Mayor’s target level 50% and his minimum threshold for fast-track handling 35%. It manages even this only through a major increase in density and using a mix of rent/price ranges which fails to reflect the needs of the area or of London at large.
We are seeing schemes with these characteristics cropping up across London and it is of the greatest importance that the Mayor maintains his resolve to be really tough on affordable housing provision without making this a pushover for developers to ramp up their schemes to a damaging intensity. Our fear was that developers would find boroughs a pushover in these negotiations, but here it appears that the Mayor’s own staff have negotiated a damaging scheme. We urge him to reconsider. To grant permission for this scheme would be to undermine his new plan.
Note: JustSpace is a mutual-support network of community groups in London trying to participate in planning policy and decisions from a social justice standpoint. Michael Edwards was one of the founders early in the century.