New Powers for the Mayor of London

July 14, 2006

Thanks to Francis Mallinson of Dialogue, (francis@localdialogue.com) for this.

The Mayor of London has been given increased powers by Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State; these measures have some significant implications for the planning and political process in London.

The measures include:

Housing
• Mayor to produce a London Housing Strategy and Housing Investment Plan
• Mayor to decide the broad distribution of affordable housing provision money from the regional housing pot

Planning
• The Mayor will be able to direct changes to London boroughs’ programmes for Local development Plans (LDFs)
• The Mayor will be able to determine planning applications of ‘major strategic importance’
• The mayor will have a ‘stronger say’ on whether draft LDFs are in line with the London Plan

Climate Change
• Mayor to publish a statutory Climate Change and Energy strategy – directing how the capital should reduce emissions and energy use

Other
• The Mayor will consider views of the Assembly and functional bodies when publishing or revising strategies, but will be able to disregard these if justification is provided.

So …

The two key powers in this list are under the ‘Planning’ section.

Planning inspectors examining draft LDF planning policy documents will now be required to consider the Mayor’s opinion on whether they conform with his London Plan policy at the start of this process. This means Ken Livingstone will have a considerable amount of power to direct the development strategies/plans of the London boroughs (if the Planning Inspector decides to support his comments).

The Mayor will also be able to decide on ‘strategic’ planning applications (i.e. very large or strategically important developments) so that all relevant regional planning policies are taken into account – i.e. Ken Livingstone will take responsibility for granting planning consent from the local council.

This is a key change in powers, though there are several permutations (alternatively, the Mayor can ask that he is consulted again by local authorities, or leave the application alone). There are guidelines for which planning applications can be ‘called in’ like this and there will be a limited number of such decisions a year.

Such decisions will be subject to certain criteria (to be consulted on) and a policy text similar to the Secretary of State’s for nationwide planning applications.

Implications

All this makes for interesting reading:

• Local Authorities will be more aware of how their new planning policies should fit with the London Plan, and how the Mayor may seek them to be changed

• Organisations making very large planning applications should be aware of the GLA Planning Department and Mayor’s increased importance as stakeholders that should be communicated with/lobbied in the planning process (with the sensitive approach used for other decision makers)

• The Mayor’s new powers to decide major planning applications could lead to a more politicised decision making process. Press coverage suggests that this will be used to push through planning applications against the wishes of the London boroughs – likely to be large scale housing applications in the London Plan’s priority areas

• All of which is in light of the approaching 2008 London Mayor elections.


Planning affects our lives

June 24, 2006

Yes I know that sounds trite. But the reason that Planning issues can arouse such hostility is that planning really does affect people’s lives. I’m not always sure that those of us immersed in the process always remember that. I have spoken to people who, with tears in their eyes and anger in their voices, have told me that the scheme I am promoting is going to ruin their lives. That they might be wrong was irrelevant at that moment because they really felt and believed that their lives would now be blighted. In this sense the perception is a very worrying and potentially damaging reality.

The Government has started to see planning in the context of communities and I for one applaud that. On the front cover of the Green Paper preceding the current Planning (and Compulsory Purchase) Act they actually said as much. In the Foreword it says, ” Good planning can have a huge beneficial effect on the way we live our lives”. The new government department dealing with planning is the Department for Communities and Local Government. But are planners and developers really buying into that? Some undoubtedly. But many are at best being slow to react to it and at worst are simply ignoring it as another government fad.

There are good reasons for this though. Local Authority Planners have been handed down a new process which, inter alia as our legal chums would say, creates huge swathes of additional work (consultation for example) and yet they are pressured by targets and timescales and name and shame threats. Developers are horrified at the prospect of having to actually ask the public what they want on a development site (and thus completely missing the point) and incredulous of a system that requires them to go high wide and handsome in the public eye with proposals on land they may not have legal control of yet.


ODPM Ode

June 24, 2006

So, farewell then
ODPM
Traded in for a slimmer
DCLG
Keith’s mum always said
You were too fat anyway.


It’s good to talk.

June 24, 2006

Why is it that the overwhelming majority of local councillors who sit on Planning committees feel that if they engage with the Applicant they will be turned to pillars of salt? There’s now a substantial amount of official advice on the matter. The leaflet called Positive Engagement, A Guide for Planning Councillors (www.idea-knowledge.gov.uk/idk/aio/1203540) from the ODPM, Planning Advisory Service and the Local Government encourages engagement. PPS1 encourages it. Most Codes of Conduct encourage it (with a plethora of legal caveats of course). And every local councillor I’ve ever met encourages it – once they understand it.

So what’s the problem?

In a word, Legal Services. Alright, in two words. I can see where they’re coming from. In the past, Local Authorities may well have got themselves into bother when a locally elected member says something they ought not to and Legal Services have to clear up the mess. Their advice to Councillors then, when asked if they should attend a briefing with an Applicant is simply don’t. Whilst I admire legal brevity (oxymoron of the month) it’s just wrong. How in the name of the Department of Communities and Local Government can you engage if you don’t talk? It’s my view – admittedly only my view – that local elected representatives have a duty to avail themselves of all the arguments, all the issues from both sides in order to fully understand them and to make a fully informed judgment on a Planning Application. (Yes, yes, all on planning grounds of course.) The trick is simply to listen, ask questions but don’t express a view. Oh, and it’s good idea to have a Planning Officer there too and not to have the meeting on the developer’s yacht in Monaco marina on Grand Prix weekend.


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