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London Assembly calls on mayor to revamp planning and address developers' 'dark arts'

Boris Johnson
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Boris Johnson has been told to overhaul London’s planning system to stop developers wriggling out of their affordable housing obligations

In an open letter to the mayor, the London Assembly planning committee accused developers of using ’the dark art of viability assessments’ and abusing the planning system ’to the detriment of local communities’, calling on the mayor to take action. 

According to AJ sister title Construction News, chair Nicky Gavron, who was deputy mayor under former mayor Ken Livingstone, said there needed to be a ’a new approach’ to viability assessments ’which considers benefits beyond profit for the developer and landowner’.

Writing on behalf of the cross-party committee, Gavron said: ’We are concerned that changes to the planning system to encourage development should not be abused to the detriment of local communities.

’Therefore we agree with you that there is a real need to bring the ‘dark art’ of viability assessments into the bright light of public scrutiny.’

The committee has called on Mr Johnson to bring forward supplementary planning guidance on viability assessments in London.

It said this SPG should include a series of recommendations, such as putting a stop on developers deliberately paying more for land to avoid planning obligations – particularly those around affordable housing.

It recommended using existing-use value to price land, meaning developers would not be able to pay over the odds.

Ms Gavron told Construction News she was concerned about a lack of transparency from developers.

’We don’t want the developers to hide behind confidentiality agreements, which they often do. We want it all to be transparent except in exceptional circumstances,’ she said.

’We want the mayor to show much greater leadership on his own land, where he really does control the process,’ Ms Gavron added.

The committee also argued that the mayor and London boroughs should consider extending new fixed minimum affordable housing targets to major developments in London in their local development plans.

The mayor has been given until 14 March to respond to the letter.

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