In recent days planning reform is in the news as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announces plans to speed up building.
Much of the changes appear to be pro-developer in nature amid claims the planning system is too complex and prevents building, but does it?
Across south east London a huge number of sites lay empty. Developers have either never brought forward an application, have done so and never proceeded or did so after many years and only now getting round to it – often in small chunks on part of an overall site.
More widely the planning system has approved far more homes than are being built, suggesting the problem is elsewhere.
Let’s take a look at some sites:
The first plot that springs to mind is a large amount of land in the town centre around the DLR station which opened 11 years ago. I wrote about it in 2014 alongside Spray Street plans. TfL and Oakmayne signed a deal to build way back in July 2009. Nothing has happened.
In 2009 TfL stated:
“Under the terms of the joint venture Oakmayne will be responsible for gaining planning permission for the sites and the delivery of the development whilst TfL will remain landowners.
On completion, the properties will be sold and any profit from the sale split between the two parties.
All funds received by Transport for London will be invested in improving and expanding London’s transport network.”
There’s a fair amount of land unbuilt 26 years after the MOD vacated. Berkeley Homes have built at a steady pace at best.
Two towers of an eventual six are rising on the former Waterfront car park. Will work proceed on the next four? It will be some years before other plots proceed. Full build-out is likely to take 20-30 years.
No progress over the past four years at this site adjacent to the Arsenal. The old club is crumbling away. 68 flats were/are planned.
Morris Walk estate.
The process of rebuilding estates begun 13 years ago in 2007. An agreement was signed between Greenwich Council and Lovell seven years ago. Only now is demolition underway at Morris Walk. Part of One Woolwich scheme of 1,500 homes.
Plans revealed four years ago for this plot in the town centre and covered here. Nothing appears imminent with buildings on site still occupied. 310 homes.
This site beside the ferry has been empty for over 10 years. Some small scale work now ongoing but not confirmed a structure will rise.
Albion pub site
Five years and counting.
Greenwich Millennium Village. First stage opened 21 years ago. Not expected to complete until 2030. 31 years to complete.
Masterplan long approved. Individual plots now slowly applied for and built.
Knight Dragon land across much of the Peninsula. Much vacant land remains and has done for decades.
In 2015 they secured an increase in homes across the masterplan to 15,720. They’ve pretty much entirely stopped building since then despite securing a further increase in homes up to 18,000+.
Plots such as 18.02, 18.03 and 19.04 and 19.05 were due to complete in 2019. They never started.
Knight Dragon secured planning approval for 642 homes in March 2017. Plans were later scrapped.
Morden Wharf. Purchased by Cathedral (later to become U&I) eight years ago in 2012. They announced plans in July 2013 for a masterplan to be drawn up.
Nothing appeared. Only now are they submitting plans. A long, drawn out build is proposed. 1,500+ homes planned.
Other sites appear to be going nowhere such as the former Arches leisure centre.
Cross Quarter – Approved seven years ago with construction on Sainsbury’s underway six years ago. Nothing has happened with adjacent housing plots despite detailed planning approval for a tower on part of the site three years ago. 500+ homes.
Eynsham Drive blocks. Submitted in 2018 and later approved. Existing car wash still trading. No sign of any progress. 272 homes.
A whole range across the town as Peabody move forward extremely slowly. Housing Zone status was the next big thing in 2014. It’s done little to speed up plans.
Six years on and no building at numerous sites including West Thamesmead Gateway where 1,800 homes are planned between Peabody and Berkeley Homes. After six years just 66 out of thousands of announced homes have completed.
Legal and General plan 536 homes on a retail park site in Lewisham which I was covering four and a half years ago. No sign of any progress.
Famously called in by Boris Johnson when Mayor to “speed up building” it is still empty many years on after developers were given approval for a site-wide masterplan. Deptford Dame was covering this back in 2013. 3,500+ homes.
A small plot has been brought forward. Nothing has started.
Many years vacant. Developers insisted Lewisham Council compulsory purchase parts of the site to proceed. Built one small section after years of waiting and have apparently now stopped. 1,700 homes.
Kidbrooke Village has been under construction for around a decade now and still vast tracts of land lay empty particularly to the north west of the site where no plans at Phase 6 are even on the drawing board.
Berkeley Homes have met resistance at times as they continually attempt to increase overall housing numbers – while failing to build on large plots of land. This is another time that has a slow build-out rate which could end up at 20 years for 5,000+ homes.
I could go on and on looking at various plots just in SE London. Erith for example has the quarry site which five years ago had outline permission for 600 homes. Five years on and a fraction have been built. Developers have been slow to bring detailed plans forward.
In all these cases it’s not the planning system at fault. Developers have sat on the land in many instances – but instead of addressing that Housing Secretary Robert Jenkins is going further with action to benefit developers.
Why will developers speed up and address the housing shortage? They never have at any time dating back many decades. It’s extremely difficult to think they will even if given more and more powers. And even if they do build, what percentage will actually be affordable? Developers play the “viability” card despite ever increasing margins and overall profit totals aided by previous government support.
The only times the UK met demand was when the state supplemented rather than replace the private sector such as the 1930s and 1950s under National Government of the 1930s and 1950s under Churchill and MacMillan. Local Government also had the ability to build en masse. We are far removed from those times.
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