DD1409 Density – Evidence to inform the full review of the London Plan

Type of decision: 
Director's decision
Code: 
DD1409
Date signed: 
16 November 2015
Decision by: 
Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Executive Director of Development, Enterprise and Environment

Executive summary

Increasing density is a key way of delivering more homes where land supply is constrained. London Plan Policy 3.4 aims to ensure that development optimises housing output for different types of locations in London and has an associated sustainable residential quality (SRQ) density matrix (London Plan Table 3.2) which sets ranges for appropriate residential density in different urban character settings and with different levels of public transport accessibility.

However, the majority of recent developments in London are being delivered at densities beyond those recommended in the density matrix. In addition density can be measured in different ways. As part of the full review of the London Plan it is necessary to assess the nature of the development the current policy approach is delivering and consider if an alternative or amended approach is required to deliver sustainable development in London. This evidence will be provided by five interlinked research projects: Project 1 - Measuring and defining density, Project 2 - Lessons from higher density development, Project 3 - Affordability, development costs and viability, Project 4 - Exploring character and development density, and Project 5 – Why else is density important?

 

 

Decision

The Executive Director approves expenditure of up to £140,000 to procure and appoint specialist consultancy services to undertake five projects researching development density which will provide evidence to inform the full review of the London Plan.

 

Part 1: Non-confidential facts and advice

Introduction and background

1.1.    The 2015 London Plan suggests at least 49,000 homes a year need to be built for the next twenty years to meet housing need. Preparatory work on the full review of the London Plan has started and suggests housing need could be somewhat higher in the future than the current London Plan suggests. Scoping work being carried out by GLA officers is investigating a number of possible options for meeting London’s growing housing need; one such option is to increase the number of higher density developments, i.e. using less land to house more people. 

1.2.    As the London Plan’s current policy on housing density Policy 3.4 makes clear, it is accepted that density is the outcome of the interplay of a range of policy, financial and other considerations. Nevertheless, in practical terms it remains a key measurement used to describe and plan development, particularly residential development. Policy 3.4 aims to ensure that development optimises housing output for different types of locations in London and has an associated sustainable residential quality (SRQ) density matrix (London Plan Table 3.2) which sets ranges for appropriate residential density in different urban character settings and with different levels of public transport accessibility. 

1.3.    The current London Plan approaches to density raises the following issues which merits further investigation to inform the full review of the London Plan: 

a)    Density in the matrix is measured by the number of habitable rooms per hectare, and the number of residential units per hectare within the development site. However, density can be measured in different ways and there is no consistent understanding of what constitutes ‘high density’.  
b)    Monitoring data for development in London shows that a majority of recent developments are being delivered at densities beyond those recommended in the density matrix.
c)    Higher density development inherently provides more floorspace than lower density development on the same site. However, in addition to delivering more housing other key issues are its cost, affordability and viability. Thus it is important for the GLA understand the implications of increasing density on cost, affordability, and viability of the completed market and affordable residential units in different types of location and the ways in which density policy may bear on the capacity of new products like starter homes and PRS to increase overall provision. More generally, the project should identify linkages between density, urban form, agglomeration economics and productivity and the ways in which density policy can enhance productivity.
d)    The density matrix has three the character settings: central, urban and suburban, these have not been accurately mapped across London and critics of the policy question if these character settings are appropriate for London and should be redefined. 
e)     Can and should access to jobs and services be taken into account when estimating appropriate densities. 

 

Objectives and expected outcomes

2.1.    The objectives of the proposed projects are to:

A.    Provide a recommendation for how density should be measured. 
B.    Develop a definition for different categories of relative density, such as low, medium, high within the London context. 
C.    Evaluate how completed developments that are above the density matrix maximum in London have ‘performed’ relative to London Plan policy objectives since completion and what lessons can be learned for future development and policy.
D.    Explore the relationship between increasing density, building height and development and management costs, and the delivery of affordable housing in different locations.
E.    Explore the relationship between urban form, agglomeration economics and productivity
F.    Explore if and how the current London Plan density matrix character settings should be revised to determine appropriate levels of density. 
G.    A sixth project is being carried out by TFL which will explore if access to jobs and services be taken into account when estimating appropriate densities (this is being procured separately).

2.2.    These objectives will be addressed through five interlinked research projects. 
•    Project 1 - Measuring and defining density (objectives A and B)
•    Project 2 - Lessons from higher density development (objective C)
•    Project 3 - Affordability, development costs and viability (objective D)
•    Project 4 - Exploring character and development density (objective F)
•    Project 5 – Why else is density important? (objective E)

2.3.    For further details, see project brief in annex 1.

 

Equality comments

3.1.    The proposed research projects will inform future London Plan policy on density. The density of the built environment has implication for the size and height of buildings, the supply of housing, and access to services such as shops, schools, public transport and doctor surgeries. Thus density levels affect everyone, and particularly the young, elderly and people with disabilities by supporting the provision of essential local services. 

3.2.    The research will identify how to achieve appropriate levels of density in different parts of London which support the delivery of more housing and local services while avoiding overcrowding, poor residential amenity and the other negatives aspects of over-dense development. Thus the outcome of the research should have positive impact for all people with a protected characteristic. In particular, the survey of residents undertaken as part of project 2 will provide analysis of who responded so the equalities implications of future policy options can be identified.

3.3.    Following these projects the future London Plan policy on density will undergo an Integrated Impact Assessment which includes an Equalities Impact Assessment, and any potential impacts will be identified and evaluated in detail at this stage. 

3.4.    In terms of procurement the proposal is in accordance with the GLA’s Equalities Framework, and consultants will be asked to provide details of their equal opportunities policies and a completed Diversity Monitoring Form.

 

Other considerations

a) Key risks and issues

Possible Risk

Actions to remove/reduce risk

Failure to secure consultants in tight timeframe.

Contact potential consultants to gain interest for study.

 

Failure to secure authoritative and robust outputs from the study.

Robustness of output of the study will be secured through regular meeting with the consultants (see attached specification) and tight control and oversight up to sign off.

 

Study not completed in time to inform other London Plan evidence gathering dependent on the density policy such as the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment.

Tight project management will ensure outputs delivered in time for depended evidence gathering and London Plan policies.  

b) Links to Mayoral strategies and priorities
4.1.    Approval is sought to seek tenders for a specialist research projects which will provide the evidence base to inform the full review of the London Plan.  The projects supports the Greater London Authority’s Business Plan 2015 – 2017, Planning Objective of “Fulfil the Mayor’s statutory roles to prepare and monitor the Spatial Development Strategy (the London Plan)”.

c) impact assessments and consultations
4.2.    This study is to provide an evidence base to support the full review of the London Plan. The London Plan policies will undergo an Integrated Impact Assessment which will include an Equalities Impact Assessment, Health Impact Assessment and Community Impact Assessment.  

 

Financial comments

5.1.    Approval is sought for expenditure of up to £140,000, to procure and appoint specialist consultancy services to undertake five projects researching development density which will provide evidence to inform the full review of the London Plan in 2015/16. 

5.2.    The decision also request approval for the commencement of procurement for these projects and award the subsequent contracts to the tenderers submitting the most economically advantageous tender quote, having regard to the criteria set out in the Section 11 of the brief (see Annex 1)

5.3.    The funding for the projects of up to £140,000 will be met from the existing London Plan 2015-16 Budget.

 

Planned delivery approach and next steps

Projects 1, 3, 4 & 5

Activity

Timeline

Procurement of contract [for externally delivered projects]

October 2015

Delivery Start Date [for project proposals]

1 December 2015

Delivery End Date [for project proposals]

22 February 2016

Project Closure: [for project proposals]

29 February 2016

 

Project 2

Activity

Timeline

Procurement of contract [for externally delivered projects]

October 2015

Delivery Start Date [for project proposals]

1 December 2015

Delivery End Date [for project proposals]

23 March 2016

Project Closure: [for project proposals]

31 March 2016

 

Appendices and supporting papers

Development density brief for consultancy work attached in annex 1