The collective of local government in London has hit back at the government’s plans to push for developing new housing on brownfield land.

According to London Councils, the capital’s boroughs are already mostly developing on brownfield sites, with the majority of projects being held back due to other reasons, rather than a lack of or problems with permissions around brownfield land.

London Councils has highlighted the following as key barriers to boosting housing supply:

  • Capital funding is insufficient to deliver the scale of affordable housing required
  • Land is more scarce and more expensive than elsewhere in England
  • Available sites require remediation and infrastructure investment to unlock housing supply
  • Insufficient development capacity, especially in the public sector, and a shortage of skilled construction workers.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Regeneration, Housing and Planning, said: “Boroughs are strongly pro-housing growth and doing everything they can to turbocharge building the new homes Londoners desperately need. These developments are almost always on brownfield sites.

“Although the planning system certainly needs to support building as much as possible, the system itself is not the core problem. London has a pipeline of 289,000 potential new homes that have received planning permission but have not yet been built due to other reasons.

“There are several key factors holding back housebuilding in London, including insufficient capital funding and infrastructure investment, as well as construction skills shortages.

“Any changes to London’s planning system must include a strong role for boroughs. This is essential for ensuring new housing is high quality and adequately supported by local services such as transport and GP surgeries. It is also vital for maintaining local democratic oversight and accountability in the planning process.

“Boroughs are concerned that the proposed further liberalisation of permitted development rights would undermine this. Too often PDR has produced poor-quality accommodation, with no affordable housing, and loss of employment sites and negative impacts on London’s high streets.

“We remain as committed as ever to working in partnership with all levels of government on increasing housebuilding in the capital. Addressing London’s longstanding housing crisis is crucial for the city’s future success.”

London faces the most severe housing and homelessness pressures in the country. London Councils estimates that one in 50 Londoners is currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation arranged by their local borough.

The London Plan 2021 sets a target of 52,000 new homes per annum. Boroughs grant planning permission for over 57,000 new homes each year (on average, based on annual approvals between 2020 and 2023). [Source: the London Datastore]

Boroughs’ planning departments also perform comparatively well in terms of the speed of decisions. For major development decisions over a 24-month period (Oct 21 – Sept 23) the percentage of decisions within 13 weeks (or an agreed timeframe, i.e. with the developer) was 91.1% for London as compared to 87.2% for England.

For minor development decisions over the same 24 months, the percentage of decisions within 8 weeks (or an agreed time) was 87.1% for London as compared to 86.1% for England.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has also raised concerns about the proposed updated planning rules for brownfield sites and the changes to permitted development rights (PDR).

Chief Executive of the RTPI, Victoria Hills, said: “While we have always welcomed the emphasis of development on brownfield, the minor adjustments to England’s planning system made today will not support the system at large to tackle the challenge of increasing housing supply. We need a long-term solution, including resourcing.

“Permitted Development Rights have had mixed results so far. As highlighted in RTPI’s written evidence submitted to the Parliament, many homes created through these routes are of poor quality and have little access to essential amenities like schools, GPs, and playgrounds. This issue is not limited to office blocks, as some of the worst living environments created this way have been on industrial sites.

“In our response to the NPPF consultation last year, we made the case for statistically calculated, evidence-based assessments for new housing numbers. We will provide a more comprehensive consideration of this point in our consultation response.

“Moving forward, any plans to build on brownfield sites will require a consideration of job opportunities and the proximity of essential amenities, including access to sustainable transport. As our Location of Development research shows, planning oversight is essential, even if this includes rejecting unsuitable developments.”