Criteria to define Mayor’s use of planning call-in power

05 March 2014

The London Assembly has called on Mayor Boris Johnson to set out clear criteria to define under what circumstances he will use his power to call-in planning applications to City Hall.

The Mayor has stripped London boroughs of the right to make planning decisions for five schemes in the past year, having previously used the call-in power only five times in the previous five years.

A motion agreed [1] today says that local democracy is being threatened by the frequent use of the call-in power, ignoring local concerns about large scale developments.

Darren Johnson AM, who proposed the amended motion, said:

“In his election manifestos in 2008 and 2012 Boris promised an end to City Hall diktats and a more cooperative approach to relations with London boroughs. The recent acceleration in the number and speed with which the Mayor is taking over planning decisions from boroughs totally undermines those pledges and puts developers and investors before local democracy.”

Stephen Knight AM, who seconded the motion, said:

“There is a role for the Mayor to play in the planning process from time-to-time for strategic developments in London but his recent eagerness to stick his oar in before local councils have had a chance to consider projects is undermining local democracy.”

Nicky Gavron AM, who proposed a successful amendment to the motions, said:

“While I support the planning call-in power, this Mayor is using it in a way that was not intended. At the behest of developers, the Mayor is taking planning decisions out of the hands of local councils even before they’ve had a chance to reach a decision. He’s by-passing the democratic process. The Mayor must issue clear guidance defining when and why he will intervene in planning decisions on strategic grounds.”

The full text of the motion is:

This Assembly is concerned that the Mayor is now making frequent use of his planning call-in powers, taking over five applications in the past year, almost as many as he took over in the preceding five years, and even calling in the recent Mount Pleasant development before the boroughs had considered the application. The applications he has now taken over are:

  • Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, Islington and Camden, January 2014
  • City Forum 250 City Road, Islington, December 2013
  • Convoys Wharf, Lewisham, October 2013
  • Southwark Free School, Southwark, July 2013
  • Holy Trinity Primary School, Hackney, June 2013
  • London Fruit and Wool Exchange, Tower Hamlets, June 2012
  • Eileen House, Southwark, December 2011
  • Saatchi Block, Camden, June 2011
  • SITA Recycling Park, Merton, November 2010
  • Southall Gas Works, Ealing, December 2009
  • Hertsmere House, Tower Hamlets, August 2009

Some recent applications were called in following requests by developers to the Mayor, despite the planning process proceeding at the local authority level. This Assembly is concerned that such frequent use of the power threatens to undermine local democracy and that on many decisions the Mayor has ignored legitimate borough concerns about issues such as inappropriate density and very low targets for affordable housing. This Assembly therefore calls on the mayor of London to develop guidance with clear criteria under which he believes it is appropriate to use call in powers.”

Notes to editors

  1. The motion was agreed by 16 votes for to 5 against at a meeting of the full Assembly today. Watch the webcast.
  2. As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.