London Plan #1: putting low income Londoners at the heart of the Plan
“Many Londoners won’t know about or have come across the London Plan but it shapes their lives on a daily basis. It is one of the most crucial documents for our city, and what it contains shapes how London evolves and develops over coming years.”
So wrote the Mayor in his foreword to the draft Plan. It is big claim to make but given what the Plan – the spatial development strategy for Greater London –is grappling with, it is surely right. For the challenge at the heart of the Plan is how to provide the housing needed to accommodate a projected rise in London’s population from 8.8 million in 2016 to 10.5 million by 2041. “To meet [this] demand”, the Mayor explains, “at least 66,000 new homes need to be built – along with space for tens of thousands of new jobs – every single year”.
Since the draft was published, NPI has developed two separate but connected lines of interest in it. The second, to do with the “Strategic Housing Market Assessment” (the source of the 66,000 figure), was in response to a question from the GLA Planning Committee about why such a large proportion of the total were one-bed homes. This will be discussed in the next blog. Our paper on it can be found here.
Our first interest in the Plan concerned poverty. The Plan made just two references to it. One was the assertion that “all stakeholders, communities and individuals have a role to play in tackling poverty, disadvantage, inequality and the causes of deprivation”. Discharging this shared responsibility”, it went on, depended on “collaboration with local communities”. The other was the “growing problem of in-work poverty, associated with low-skilled low-paid work”.
With 2¼ million people in London experiencing poverty, of which six in every ten are in a working household, consultation as a response and low skills as a diagnosis are inadequate. Although the Mayor’s economic fairness strategy does address poverty, that is no reason why the spatial strategy should not too. But where does the fault for this omission lie? After all, the latest London Poverty Profile, published just a month before it, made no reference to the Plan. If the planners have ignored poverty, poverty campaigners and researchers have largely ignored planning.
In order to respond to the consultation on the Plan, we had to start by developing an argument as to why the Mayor’s overarching vision of a ‘city for all Londoners’ should pay explicit attention to the interests of low income Londoners. The bones of the argument (developed in full here) is that low-income households don’t have very different circumstances from most other Londoners but their reduced resources, both money and time, mean that the challenge they face is more acute.
This is especially so for the low-income families in work. More than half the adults in them are women. Three quarters of the people in these families have either a child, a disabled adult or a pensioner living with them. The care and support commitments these imply, on top of the high (79 per cent) adult employment rate, underlines the time pressure they are under – without a financial cushion to fall back on.
If being short of time as well as money is what unites low income Londoners, they are nevertheless diverse, with the four equalities groups – age, sex, disability and race – well represented.
What does this mean for the Plan?
A focus on the interests of low-income Londoners is obviously in line with the importance that the Plan attaches to housing but it also goes further than this. First, they will be cost sensitive in general, not just for housing. With less resources to spare, they may also be more risk-averse.
Second, with higher numbers of dependents, they will make more use of local public services (schools, health, care, parks, leisure etc).
Third, journeys are more local (on average, low paid workers travel less far to work), complex (trips with multiple purposes) and varied (things crop up, whether at school, with a relative, etc) than those who commute daily, usually by train, to a full-time job.
On this basis, we proposed 17 amendments across the draft Plan. We hope that some of these will be considered further during the EiP hearings.  Our full submission can be found here. In summary, the amendments can be summarised as follows.
First, to make a reality of the Mayor’s vision, prioritising the interests of low-income Londoners must be policy, supported by supplementary planning guidance to show boroughs, TFL etc how to put the priority into practice.
Second, there must be a hard commitment to engage with local communities. Most developments of whatever form are likely to impact low income Londoners disproportionately. Balancing their interests today with their and others’ interests in future is paramount.
Third, the key performance indicators must include measures of the outcomes for low-income Londoners.
This focus on the interests of low income households is not an alternative to the Mayor’s vision of a city for all Londoners but rather a way to ensure that the variety and complexity of London lives are properly reflected in the Plan. A London that works for its low-income households will be a London that works for all.
 The Plan is now going through an 18-month process of public consultation and professional review. In response to the consultation, the Mayor has published a new draft incorporating “minor suggested changes”. An “Examination in Public” (EIP) by a panel of planning inspectors will take place in the first half of 2019. Preparation for this, including agreeing the matters for consideration and the list of witnesses, is now underway. The inspectors will report by summer 2019. The Mayor is not bound by what they have to say but he must explain if he chooses to ignore any of their recommendations. The Secretary of State may also intervene.