Select Committee on Greater London Authority Bill Memoranda


Memorandum submitted by the City of London Corporation (GLA2)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The City of London's principal concerns about this Bill relate to the enhancement of the Mayoral planning powers contained in Part 7. The City also has some concerns about future arrangements for the Museum of London contained in Part 9, and seeks reassurance about the operation of the housing strategy dealt with in Part 6. The City also wishes to comment on the provisions in Part 6 on waste.

Planning

  2.  The City has made clear during the consultation process and since that in its view, no case has been made for fundamental change in the current operation or delivery of the planning system.

  3.  The City Corporation is urging the development community to invest in the City to provide the new office stock that London critically needs for the expansion of its international financial services firms. The City Corporation is doing all it can to provide certainty, flexibility and quick decisions throughout the property cycle. This is particularly important at times of strong economic activity when the development community needs to be lining up new schemes which will be ready when occupiers require them. They are concerned to capture an investment window and maximising the prospects of engaging them in putting forward cutting edge schemes requires speed and certainty in the planning process.

  4.  The City's continued attractiveness as a financial and business centre in part depends on its ability to provide the sort of accommodation that the international financial community requires. The more troublesome that is procedurally, the less attractive it will be for the developers who are able to initiate projects of the sort the City needs to devote their efforts to the London market.

  5.  The City has sought to be constructive in approaching the Government's proposals to increase Mayoral involvement. In that spirit the City has engaged in discussions about changes which might be made to them to minimise added delay, uncertainty and cost.

  6.  In that context, the changes which the City believes to be needed to the current proposals are set out at paragraphs 13-20 below.

Current legislation on Mayoral involvement in City planning applications

  7.  Current legislation under the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2000 gives the Mayor a power of intervention to refuse certain planning applications. These are confined to applications `of potential strategic importance'.

  8.  These include applications for large commercial buildings. In the City, however, the threshold which triggers the Mayoral power to intervene is greater than elsewhere in Greater London (30,000 sq metres total floorspace in the City as against 20,000 sq metres elsewhere). High buildings also trigger Mayoral involvement but again the threshold is set higher in the City than elsewhere in Greater London (a height of 75 metres as against 30 metres).

  9.  These differentials recognise the City's distinct demography and the overall legislative aim of confining the field of application of the Mayoral power to what is actually strategic. The City believes that this recognition of the Square Mile's distinctive character should continue under the new regime introduced by the Bill. Alterations to the existing thresholds for Mayoral intervention for large or high developments in the City to reflect the experience of the Mayor of London Order and current circumstances are proposed at para 15.

The City's specific concerns about the Bill's planning proposals

  10.  Part 7 of the Bill significantly extends the potential for Mayoral involvement in deciding planning applications. The current power of intervention to direct refusal for applications of potential strategic importance is enlarged into an entitlement for the Mayor to direct that he is to be the local planning authority in respect of such applications (Clause 2A(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 inserted by clause 31(2) of the Bill).

  11.  The City regards it as important that the meaning of `potential strategic importance' is clear and that it addresses the particular circumstances of the City. Only by such an approach will it be possible to assume with confidence that only those applications which can genuinely be regarded as strategic in City of London terms will be subject to the Mayoral intervention powers.

  12.  The Bill anticipates (Section 2A(4) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to be inserted by Clause 31(2) of the Bill) an order which will provide clarification of `potential strategic importance'. That order, or a draft of it, has yet to appear. The Department for Communities and Local Government has, however, consulted on the interpretation of the term. According to the Department's consultative document on the Government's final proposals for changes to the current Mayoral Order issued in August 2006, an application of potential strategic importance in the City will be decided by reference to the current thresholds, size and height of buildings set out in the Mayor of London Order (30,000 sq metres of total floorspace and 75 metres in height). There will, in addition, be a `policy test'.

  The consultative document issued in August 2006 (paragraph 29) referred to the criteria for that test as follows?

  "In the Mayor's view:

    —  Does the planning application raise issues of a nature and scale that would significantly impact on the implementation of specific London Plan policies?; and

    —  Do the issues raised by the application have significant effects that go wider than a single borough?"

  13.  As far as the thresholds are concerned, the City's view is that the existing order sets the bar too low in the City of 2007 in defining an application of `potential strategic significance'.

  14.  The City Corporation has acknowledged and established expertise in assessing and determining planning applications for major office development in the City of London. None of the applications referred to the Mayor since 2000 in accordance with existing referral thresholds has raised strategic concerns which have resulted in the Mayor directing a refusal of the application. This suggests that the existing referral thresholds are too low if they are intended to distinguish those applications likely to raise genuine strategic concerns. Increasing the thresholds for the City of London would, on the other hand, keep the system streamlined and free up additional resources for the Mayor to deal with the truly strategic applications in the City and elsewhere as speedily as possible.

  15.  The City therefore takes the view that the height threshold that triggers referral of City applications to the Mayor should be increased from 75m to 150m and the floorspace thresholds from 30,000 to 100,000 square metres of additional floorspace. Based on the City's experience since 2000 as local planning authority, these higher thresholds would have triggered possible Mayoral intervention once or twice a year as being of potential strategic importance.

  16.  So far as the proposed Mayoral policy test to decide whether the Mayor should take over an application as the local planning authority rather than direct a refusal of the application is concerned, the City is of the view that the policy test proposed in the consultation document (set out in para 12 of this memorandum) should be tightened.

  17.  Whether an application raises "issues of a nature and scale that would significantly impact on implementation of specific London Plan policies" is, in the City's view, too loose. The City's concern here is that the Mayor should not intervene just because a development falls foul of one, or even a few, London Plan policies given there are over 180 of them. The Mayor should be concerned where there is an overall strategic impact. "Significant effects ... wider than a single borough" would result in the capture of schemes which have a small and certainly not strategic, spatial impact. This would be especially so in the case of schemes located towards the edge of a local planning authority's area. For the City, with its small geographic area, even schemes in its central cluster would be captured notwithstanding that their effects might extend just a few hundred metres into a neighbouring borough.

  18.  The City also thinks that there should be an additional element to the policy test—whether there are sound planning reasons which make it necessary for the Mayor to take over or direct refusal of the application.

  19.  The word `sound' is a commonly used term in planning, for example in relation to the testing of Development Plan Documents.

  20.  While the first two tests establish that an application would have significant impacts on the London Plan and significant effects which go beyond the local planning authority boundary, those alone do not necessarily justify the Mayor taking over an application. Just because an application has significant effects does not mean that it cannot properly be dealt with by the local planning authority. The Mayor's judgement to intervene must, in the City's view, be based on sound planning reasons and he should be able to show why it is necessary to take over conduct of an application from the local planning authority. In the interests of good governance, the Mayor should be obliged to state these reasons. Guidance on what are sound planning reasons could be developed in secondary legislation or a Circular.

Planning agreements (s106 agreements)

  21.  If the Mayor is to lead on the s106 negotiations for the applications he takes over as local planning authority, the City is of the view that he should abide by the local policies and guidance which set out how benefits are levied and distributed. The primary benefit should accrue to the area in which the development is located, and the Mayor should not be incentivised to take over an application by the prospect of being able to influence the levying and distribution of s106 benefits.

  22.  The City is therefore of the view that the Bill should define the matters to which the Mayor should have regard (and in particular the views of the local planning authority) in applying the proceeds of s106 agreements.

The Museum of London

  23.  The City has a very strong interest in the future of the Museum of London, not least because the Museum is the product of a merger between the City's own Guildhall Museum and what was originally known as the London Museum. The City has been a partner in the Museum since its creation by the Museum of London Act 1965. The City Corporation seeks reassurances over the independence of the Board of Governors and maintenance of funding.

  24.  The City Corporation believes that over the past 40 years the Museum of London has benefited greatly from being overseen by an independent Board of Governors. The independence of its Board has afforded the Museum freedom to direct its programmes and host exhibitions in a way that promotes innovation and quality. This independence has also allowed the Museum to provide a neutral forum for debate on contemporary issues. Many day-to-day decisions on exhibitions and acquisitions are delegated to staff with the added effect of boosting staff morale. In the City's view it is therefore essential that in order for the Museum to continue its success, the independence and primacy of the Board of Governors is recognised and maintained by the proposals contained in the Bill.

  25.  It is not clear from the change in funding arrangements that the current grant to the Museum from DCMS will be effectively ringfenced. If it were not, there would be potential for the independence of the Museum's governors to be compromised by funding being made subject to the governors' conduct in carrying out their functions in particular ways. The City therefore feels it appropriate to include a statutory guarantee of independence of the Board of Governors.

  26.  As with many other cultural attractions across the nation, the Museum has clearly benefited from increased visitor numbers derived from the Government's free entry initiative, which applies only to DCMS sponsored museums. The City Corporation is keen to ensure that the Museum of London continues to be included within the terms of this initiative.

  27.  It is assumed that the DCMS would transfer resources to the GLA (via DCLG) to allow it to continue funding the Museum at current agreed levels. It is further assumed that the transfer of resources would include funding for free access that DCMS provided to date. The City Corporation would echo the concerns of the London Assembly that there must be assurances from Government that the bulk of the funding requirement for the Museum will come through Revenue Grant and not the Council Tax.

  28.  The DCMS matches the City of London Corporation on an equal basis on "core" funding, in accordance with the Museum of London Act. Each partner is, however, able to add discretionary elements and both the DCMS and the City Corporation have made additional funding available to the Museum in this way as well as additional funding for the Museum in Docklands.

  29.  The City's view that a process for agreeing the level of core funding with the GLA needs to be put in place to make quite clear that no one partner could in future force through changes to core funding without the agreement of the other. The City also believes that a default funding formula should be put in place to ensure that if agreement between the two funding partners cannot be achieved by a defined date, the following year's funding is set at the current year's level uplifted by inflation. That apart, the City Corporation has no issue over the continuation of the existing practice of allowing an individual partner to provide elements of funding outside the core for specific projects and which the other partner is not obliged to match.

Housing

  30.  The City has no issue with the principle of the London Housing Strategy contemplated by clause 28. The City is, however, in a unique position on housing provision in that as primarily a business district much of its housing needs are met from provision made outside the City. It would in the City's view be quite inappropriate for any strategy to require the City to make substantial housing provision inside the Square Mile given the importance attached to the retention and enhancement of the City as an international financial and business centre.

  31.  This point has been recognised in the Mayor's London Plan (2004) and the Draft Further Alterations to the London Plan (2006) which exempt the City's special business cluster from the requirements of the Mayor's mixed use policy to require housing in office developments. Instead, a City office development would provide housing off-site as part of a planning agreement. The Mayor's Early Alterations to Housing Provision Targets (2006) also acknowledge the City's special position by allocation to the City a realistic target for new housing within the City 2007-2016 of 90 units per year. Although the current Mayor acknowledges the City's special position, the City Corporation believes that the great importance of safeguarding the City's future development merits such acknowledgment being based on statute and that the Bill should provide accordingly.

Waste

  32.  The Bill does not currently provide for a single waste authority in the Capital. The City is, however, aware of the Mayor's intention to seek amendments of the Bill to provide for one. The City opposes such a move and adopts the views expressed by London Councils on this subject. The City also wishes to make the specific point that it would be opposed to any proposal to bring the Londonwide Hazardous Waste Collection and Disposal Service (which the City took over from the Environment Agency in 1998) into an over-arching London Waste Authority, were one to be proposed by amendment to the Bill.

January 2007





 
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Prepared 11 January 2007