In October 2007, the Greater London Authority Act 2007 (the Act) received Royal Assent. One of the main purposes of the Act is to give greater powers to the Mayor in respect of planning applications for developments of ‘potential strategic importance’ (PSI applications). Where a PSI application is made to any London local planning authority, the Mayor must be notified and can direct the local planning authority to refuse the application on limited grounds. In addition, as from 6 April 2008, the Mayor has been able to take over the decision making powers of the local authorities in respect of PSI applications, as well as retaining the power to direct refusal.

The extent to which the new Mayor will wish to use his new powers remains to be seen, but he has issued a ‘direction of travel’ document entitled ‘Planning a Better London’ in which he sets out his approach to planning in London and the key areas he wants to focus on when revising the London Plan.

The implementation of these powers is regulated by the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008 (SI 580/2008) which came into force on 6 April 2008 and revoked the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2000. The order is supplemented by new GOL Circular 1/2008 which gives guidance on the arrangements for strategic planning in London.

The Mayor will also be the decision maker and hazardous substances authority in relation to any applications connected with a PSI application such as listed building consent, conservation area consent and hazardous substances consent. He is also the determining authority in relation to any applications for variations or discharge of conditions on these consents.

In respect of a PSI application which the Mayor is determining himself, he can enter into any related section 106 agreement but must consult the local planning authority before doing so. Any such planning obligation is enforceable by the Mayor and also by the local planning authority.

Procedure

Planning applications will continue to be submitted to the local planning authority. If an application meets a threshold which makes it a PSI application (the thresholds are set out in the Schedule to the Mayor of London Order 2008), then the local planning authority must refer it to the Mayor.

The Mayor may either allow the local planning authority to determine the application, direct that the application should be refused or direct that he should exercise the role of the local planning authority and determine the application.

The Mayor may only direct that he should determine the application where the following policy tests are satisfied:

  • The application raises issues of such a nature or scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of the London Plan;
  • The issues raised by the application have significant effects that go wider than a single London Borough; and
  • There are sound planning reasons for issuing such a direction.

In deciding whether to give a determining direction, the Mayor must also have regard to the GOL Circular.

Whilst the changes will greatly increase the Mayor’s powers in respect of planning applications submitted in London, it should be noted that:

  • The London local authorities will continue to receive the application fees for PSI applications; yy The Secretary of State will retain her call-in powers in respect of PSI applications;
  • The applicants’ appeal rights against a refusal of planning permission remain unchanged.

Local Development Schemes

The GLA Act 2007 also amends section 15 of the Town and Country Planning Act 2004 regarding Local Development Schemes (LDS).

As a result, London local authorities must now submit their Local Development Scheme (LDS) to the Mayor (in addition to the Secretary of State) for approval. The Mayor is given the power to direct amendments to be made to the LDS, having regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State who can override any such direction.

The new powers in practice and a new direction for planning in London

The Mayor has set out a timetable for making changes to the London Plan and other policy guidance and in his July 2008 ‘direction of travel’ document mentions the following:

  • He will focus on strategic issues and the London Plan will be reviewed to make it a more concise statement of strategic policy;
  • Tall buildings will be supported in ‘appropriate locations’ and the Mayor will work with the boroughs to identify and designate such locations;
  • To support town centres and retailing, the Mayor will support initiatives such as BIDS and planners will be able to use s106 agreements to require developers to make provision for affordable small shop units in major retail schemes;
  • A new draft Housing Strategy will be published for consultation later in 2008 which will outline how resources available for housing in London will be used to deliver more affordable homes;
  • The Mayor wants to see 50,000 new affordable homes built between 2008 to 2011. The London Plan will be altered to remove the 50% affordable housing target for new development and to enable a higher proportion of shared ownership and other ‘intermediate’ housing;
  • A revised SPG on housing is to be published and appropriate alterations will be made to the London Plan;
  • The Mayor will continue to use the planning system to its ‘full extent’ to make sure London makes real progress in meeting the challenge of climate change;
  • Mention is made of the forthcoming SPG on renewable energy and the Mayor’s strong support for micro generation and onsite renewable energy;
  • The Mayor will use his planning powers to prevent inappropriate development of open spaces, Green Belt land, domestic gardens and playing fields;
  • The Mayor’s Transport Strategy will be reviewed;
  • The Mayor will look at ways that the planning system can be used to seek a contribution towards the cost of Crossrail from development;
  • The Mayor will oppose the current plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and intends to lead a thorough review of long term options for London airports including the scope for a new airport in the Thames Estuary;
  • The Mayor will consider issuing SPG on standards for cycle parking in new developments to support the implementation of cycle hire schemes similar to those in Paris, Copenhagen and elsewhere; and
  • The Mayor will continue to protect wharves and other infrastructure needed if London’s waterways are to realise their transport potential and will consider issuing additional guidance and practice to support protection and use of waterways.

The direction document acknowledges that although much has been achieved in London over the last 8 years, there is still room for improvement. Interesting times lie ahead for those involved in development projects in London.