Will a ‘good growth’ plan serve London’s nature?

Stag and tower blocks credit Lloyd Durham

The London Plan is designed to shape London's growth - and you can have your say.

The London Plan is designed to shape London's growth - and you can have your say.

The Mayor of London has just published his draft iteration of the London Plan – the development strategy for Greater London.

His plan is based on ‘good growth’ principles, primarily growth that is socially inclusive, healthy and environmentally sensitive, and which will deliver the homes, infrastructure and jobs that Londoners need.

Few would argue with this, although clearly the devil is in the detail, especially coming at a time of considerable pressures on the capital.

London’s population is projected to reach 10.5 million by 2041, and Sadiq Khan has said the target for the number of homes built every year will inevitably rise from 29,000 to 66,000 (with a target of 50% being ‘genuinely affordable’) in order to accommodate this growth.

The London Plan, the spatial development strategy for Greater London, sets out the key vision for how the capital could develop, while “relieving the pressure on land, infrastructure and the environment.”

The Green Belt and green spaces

Like his policy on affordable homes, the Mayor’s protection of the Green Belt was in his election manifesto. The Plan pledges to refuse planning applications that do not meet strict rules, such as replacing existing buildings with new ones of a similar scale.

Mr Khan has said: “Since I took office I have refused a number of developments which would have caused harm to the Green Belt. With my new London Plan, I’m sending a clear message to developers that building on or near the Green Belt must respect and protect this vital natural resource.”

The Plan also aims to increase the protection of other green spaces in the capital, as “London’s green and open spaces are a vital part of the capital. Its parks, rivers and green open spaces are some of the places that people most cherish and they bring the benefits of the natural environment within reach of Londoners.”

These extend to a number of policies set out in the Green Infrastructure & Natural Environment chapter, although those for biodiversity remain little changed from the current London Plan.

Urban greening and water

Urban greening aspirations, such as planting more trees in the streets, living roofs and swales to alleviate surface water run-off have now been included here. If designed well, these could bring benefits for wildlife. If poorly designed, nature may lose out in the longer term, if overall the amount of green space deteriorates.

London’s waterbodies, somewhat bizarrely, have been moved to the Sustainable Infrastructure chapter, and policies focus largely on their functions in respect of water management, drainage, transport and leisure. 

New policies and direction

What is new are policies resisting fracking (hydraulic fracturing), an emphasis on a ‘healthy streets’ approach to road transport, a greater play on social infrastructure (e.g. community facilities, schools). These may not necessarily have a benign impact on the natural environment but they do represent a shift from the previous Mayor’s Plan.

Less explicit is the likely shift to building more within the suburbs and around key transport nodes; a lot of small-scale in-fill, which could, if poorly designed, lead to accumulative loss of green space (‘death by a thousand cuts’). 

When adopted by late 2019, what we will arguably see is a London Plan that shifts new development away from the inner London intensification of the past decade. There will be little change in its additional focus on specific areas of ongoing development, such as at Old Oak Common, Greenwich Peninsula and Barking Riverside. 

The commitment to protect the Green Belt further maintains a welcome line in the sand from outward expansion of the city, but we need to see whether this will result in the sacrifice of open spaces within the suburbs and city.

The Plan will represent the third iteration of the London Plan, first published by Mayor Livingstone in 2004, and revised under Mayor Johnson in 2011. Regularly updated to reflected changes in national planning policy and legislation, in reality the overall differences between them are largely tints and shades, as the bulk of planning decisions (about 90,000 every year) are determined at a borough level.

The Mayor’s real planning teeth are few, and it’s his leadership role in articulating his vision of ‘good growth’ into practical changes on the ground that will determine whether his Plan meets its environmental aspirations.

Get involved

The draft Plan is now available for public consultation until 2nd March 2018.

Following feedback a revised version will be subject to an Examination in Public with a planning inspector next autumn, who will then present the proposed recommended version for adoption by the Mayor about a year later.

London Wildlife Trust will be formally responding to the consultation, and will aim to engage with the process through to adoption.

Members of the public can also comment on the plan online.