Government planning reforms will make it harder to build affordable homes, Sadiq Khan warns

Ministers want to abolish Section 106 powers responsible for half of social housing construction

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 06 August 2020 17:01 BST
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The mayor claims that ‘City Hall and London’s boroughs are united’ in their concerns
The mayor claims that ‘City Hall and London’s boroughs are united’ in their concerns (Getty)

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The government’s proposals to “cut red tape” in the planning system will make it harder to build affordable and social homes in the capital, the mayor of London has warned.

Writing in The Independent, Sadiq Khan said the changes would “mean fewer social and affordable homes being built every year, poorer quality housing and local people left with out-of-place buildings and no opportunity to have their say”.

The government’s wide-ranging proposals include abolishing Section 106, a legal instrument that gives councils powers to require developers to build infrastructure or affordable homes in order to get planning permission.

Under the plans, the powers would be replaced with a “national levy” set by central government. Last month, housing minister Robert Jenrick was urged to resign after admitting he helped a developer avoid statutory contributions to a council in east London.

Section 106 has become a major contributor to the construction of affordable homes since it was introduced in 1990. A study by Savills in April 2019 found that the instrument was behind almost half – 47 per cent – of total new build affordable homes built in the past three years.

The government says the replacement will deliver “at least as much, if not more” affordable housing, but figures in the social housing sector have queued up to warn against its abolition.

The London mayor described the government’s overall approach as “a nakedly ideological assault on local democracy and an attack on London and Londoners”.

“The government’s so-called planning revolution will be a disaster for London and will ride roughshod over communities and locally elected representatives,” Mr Khan wrote in The Independent.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick
Housing minister Robert Jenrick (PA)

“The promise in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto that ‘the days of Whitehall knows best are over’ looks increasingly laughable. Instead of devolution or levelling up, we now have a grab for power by the centre, with the government imposing a top-down, one-size-fits-all system.

“Ministers just don’t seem to understand that planning rules aren’t ‘red tape’ – they’re the basic standards which help deliver social and affordable homes in decent neighbourhoods that people want to live in. Unleashing developers to build or convert whatever they like, with only flimsy rules set remotely in Whitehall, will just mean more small, poor quality and expensive homes – out of reach of the vast majority of Londoners.”

The mayor claimed that “City Hall and London’s boroughs are united” in their concerns about the proposals.

The housing minister Mr Jenrick on Thursday denied that the changes would lead to “the development of the next generation of slum housing”, as claimed by the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects Alan Jones.

Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “That I’m afraid is complete nonsense. I saw those comments and they were put out before we’d even published the document.”

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