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Up or Out – a new political debate in London?


By Osman Dervish, Associate Director – Planning – London & Northern Home Counties

The debate around whether to go up or out to deliver housing numbers is one which is well versed in most parts of the country where councils are regularly faced with Green Belt reviews as part of their Local Plan preparations. However in recent years, this debate is one which has been less prevalent in London.

Many would argue that under the previous two London Mayors, very strict protection of the Green Belt has meant that the debate became rather one sided in favour of going up. The ever-changing London skyline is proof enough of this.

However, two of the latest London Plan changes will see this debate open back up across London.

The first amendment is around tall buildings. The comments of Secretary of State, The Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP that “tall buildings should only be brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas, as determined by the boroughs” being enacted will have varying meanings for different London boroughs. Especially when considered alongside additional direction that tall buildings restrictions should include buildings over 18 metres (6 storeys), meaning a great many more buildings falling under this remit and even more work needing to be done by local councils to justify them.

The second amendment is around the Green Belt which will see the stricter approach proposed by the draft London Plan brought into line with the less restrictive NPPF approach thus leading to the possibility of more regular Green Belt reviews for London boroughs.

For those inner London boroughs where space is at a premium, the approach to tall buildings will be a mixed blessing of unleashing opportunities for more height where a council deems appropriate but also challenging them when justifying the sheer number and density of them.

However for some outer London boroughs with Green Belt land that do not believe tall buildings are in keeping with the architecture of their borough, these changes will bring forward a great debate around how those much needed homes will be delivered. Whether it’s through taller buildings in town centre regeneration schemes or the release of more Green Belt land for lower density development, councils will still need to deliver against their housing targets.

Beyond the Capital, many of us are used to seeing these political debates play out in the Home Counties with Local Plan meetings attended by hundreds of local residents and council administrations falling due to perceived issues of over development. Up until now, this hasn’t been such an issue in London due to the strict protections previously afforded the Green Belt meaning going tall became almost a fete accompli.

However with these new changes, expect to see ever increasing campaigns and potentially new political groups in London boroughs which have a development theme at their heart.


Up or Out - a new political debate in London?