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| 5 minutes read


The much-anticipated London Plan Review: Report of Expert Advisers was published on 13th February 2024, slightly later than originally billed.

In December 2023, Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC)) wrote to Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London) to announce that a review of the London Plan was being undertaken to identify policy changes which could speed up the delivery of homes in the capital. Stating that “if you cannot do what is needed to deliver the homes that London needs, I will”. Gove then drew the battle lines by stating later that day, “I hope we can agree a plan for reform and delivery with the Mayor. But if not, I reserve the right to intervene”.

Gove tasked a panel of experts, led by Christopher Katkowski KC, to consider whether changes to London Plan policies could facilitate more development on brownfield land to deliver more homes.


First off, the Review considers London’s housing needs, how the housing targets in the London Plan were set, and what progress is being made to deliver them.

When the London Plan was adopted in 2021, it set a housing target of 52,300 homes a year from 2019/20 to 2028/29, a figure derived from capacity-based estimates. This target is significantly below the actual need identified at that time for c.66,000 homes a year. The latest Standard Method figures identify a significantly larger need for 98,822 homes a year.

The Review identifies an overwhelming under-delivery of homes against the adopted London Plan target, resulting in a backlog of 60,000 homes (equivalent to a year’s supply). Very few boroughs are meeting their housing targets.

Although there has been some increase in affordable housing starts, this has been accompanied by a downward trend in housebuilding, which, if it continues, would result in a shortfall of more than 150,000 homes by 2028/29 or  29% of the total target.

The Review cites several factors impacting the current housing supply, including: the inconsistent use of Brownfield Land registers, the ineffectiveness of London Plan monitoring, the ambitious London Plan affordable housing requirements, and the fact that only a third of London LPAs currently have an adopted Local Plan which implement London Plan strategies.

Most crucially, the Review acknowledges that the London Plan is excessively complex. Weighing in at over 500 pages and containing 113 policies, “the Plan contains literally hundreds of requirements, exhortations and aspirations and, depending on the circumstances of an individual application, a great many of these bear upon deciding whether to permit residential development on brownfield sites.” (paragraph 4.6).

The Review explains that London Plan policy imperatives – much of it expressed as ‘shoulds’ rather than ‘musts’ – are too often being applied mechanistically by LPAs, and it is difficult for schemes to achieve all policy goals.


The Review acknowledges that the London Plan itself is not the “sole source of the problem”. While housing delivery constraints are, at least in part, influenced by the planning framework within London, wider macroeconomic conditions, fire safety, infrastructure constraints, statutory consultees, viability difficulties, and planning resourcing pressures have all contributed. However, the Review has been tasked specifically to recommend improvements to the London Plan to facilitate the delivery of new homes on brownfield sites.

The Review concludes that the London Plan is missing a “policy mechanism to assist applicants and decision-makers in navigating a path that aligns with the intended goal of boosting housing supply to the level outlined in the London Plan strategy”. As such, it recommends a presumption in favour of residential development on brownfield land.

This means that for ‘qualifying LPAs’ (i.e. those where completions are currently not reaching their required cumulative annualised target), there would be a strong presumption in favour of granting planning permission for proposals which comprise or include residential development on brownfield (previously developed) land. Similarly to the NPPF, there would be exemptions (the presumption would not apply to sites in the Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land or Strategic Industrial Land), and for developments causing harm to designated heritage assets, the presumption would only apply where public benefits outweigh the harm.

The new presumption could be introduced as a new London Plan policy in its own right, or it could be instigated through a written ministerial statement or an addition to the Planning Practice Guidance (albeit this would not have statutory weight and would only be a material consideration).


In his letter of 12th February 2024, Gove agreed with the conclusions of the Review and indeed considers there is benefit in applying the recommendations more broadly across England. On 13th February, the Government announced a consultation on changes to national planning policy, which will seek to “turbocharge” the building of homes on brownfield land. The consultation is on three proposals:

•    Changes to national planning policy to give significant weight to the benefits of delivering as many homes as possible and take a flexible approach in applying planning policies or guidance relating to the internal layout of development to deliver as many homes as possible.
•    Changes to the way the Housing Delivery Test operates in the 20 towns and cities subject to the uplift in the standard method. This would introduce an additional presumption trigger where their Housing Delivery Test score falls below 95%. In these circumstances, the presumption in favour of sustainable development would apply to applications on previously developed land.
•    Reviewing the threshold for referral of residential applications to the Mayor of London.


Overall, the consultation has been welcomed by the development industry, with Landsec, Barratt Developments and British Land all expressing their support for any steps taken, which would help to unlock greater potential for brownfield urban regeneration.

In theory, the introduction of a presumption in favour of brownfield sites should offer developers greater certainty about development proposals and, therefore, increase their confidence to bring forward applications for new homes and greater consistency in decision-making.

However, there are concerns about what this may mean for the quality of homes delivered in brownfield locations. The consultation explains that LPAs should take a flexible approach in applying policies or guidance relating to daylight and sunlight and internal layouts where they would otherwise inhibit making the most efficient use of a site. However, this would address the often challenging application of the Mayor’s Housing Design Standards London Planning Guidance.

By their very nature, brownfield developments are complicated and expensive, with challenges relating to, but not limited to, contamination, infrastructure, land assembly and access. Without more funding for remediation and enabling works and longer-term investment from the Government in infrastructure, these challenges will continue.

The widely recognised issue of LPA under-resourcing will also remain. This is arguably one of the most fundamental barriers to the timescales associated with the determination of planning applications.

Due to concerns that housebuilding is being delayed by “unnecessary duplication” of the planning process by the GLA, the final consultation proposal is to increase the current 150-unit threshold for referral of applications to the Mayor of London.

It is argued that increasing the threshold would speed up the determination of applications on a procedural basis. However, this could also be a hindrance. Given their strategic remit, the GLA is less likely to get into the details of matters such as internal layouts and daylight and sunlight, and the GLA often take a more strategic and consistent approach on matters such as density and housing quality than LPAs. The referral process can also be particularly helpful where developments are struggling to reach an agreement with an LPA, as the GLA often help to put into focus the wider strategic planning objectives.

Whilst the battle between Gove and City Hall continues, introducing a proposed presumption in favour of building residential schemes on brownfield sites should help to streamline the planning process in the capital and across the country, assisting in the delivery of more homes.


london, housing, living, central government, local authorities, planning, insight