Council meetings

Agenda item

Planning: annual monitoring report


4.1    David Syme (Strategic Planning Manager) introduced the report, the following key points were noted:

·         The report provided an overview of the performance of the planning service in 2017-18.

·         It was no longer a statutory requirement to produce the report but the planning service and the Council believed it was important to have a transparent and honest reflection of performance.

·         Housing completions were down on previous years. There had been a net completion of 674 homes in the monitoring period compared to a target of 1385 homes.

·         There had also been a significant downturn in completions across London (down by 20%).

·         The number of completions was not always consistent. It fluctuated over the years.

·         There had also been a downturn in the number of affordable homes that had been completed. In the monitoring period 39 affordable homes had been completed (approximately eight percent of the total number of homes) which was well below the borough’s strategic target of 50%.

·         The Council’s strategic planning committee was going to consider how affordable housing delivery could be increased.

·         Planning approvals for new homes had also fallen. There were 389 in the monitoring period compared to 1200 in 2016-17.

·         In year monitoring (from April 2018 onwards) indicated that the number of approvals this year had risen significantly – already reaching 1259 (with 29% affordable homes, mostly at social and London affordable rent levels)

·         The Council had not failed the housing delivery test – but in coming years it might be difficult to meet the target due to the dip in approvals.

·         The number of planning applications overall had fallen during the monitoring period however, the planning service had exceeded its key performance indicators for the time taken to decide applications.

·         In terms of non-residential property there had been a net loss of 15796 square meters – primarily of employment floor space.

·         The majority of the loss had been ‘plan led’ loss.


4.2    David Syme (Strategic Planning Manager), Christopher Dale (Service Group Manager, Development Management) and Thiru Moolan (Head of Building Control) responded to questions from the Committee, the following key points were noted:


·         The Greater London Authority carried out an assessment of land available in London for development. Lewisham contributed to this assessment. Consideration was given to the requirement for infrastructure to support new development.

·         Lewisham carried out its own work to determine which sites would be suitable for development and what the density of development on those sites should be.

·         There was a constant review of population statistics. Government population figures had recently been forecast downwards, this was thought to be primarily as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.

·         Neighbourhood planning and the healthy neighbourhoods schemes (funded through the local implementation plan) should complement each other.

·         The decision to reduce employment space in the borough had been taken by the Council a number of years ago and introduced into Lewisham’s planning processes. That decision was now resulting in the reduction in employment floor space.

·         Applications had been submitted for the next steps of the Convoys Wharf development. Discussions were ongoing with developers.

·         The Council kept a register of residents interested in self-building in the borough. The planning service was required to give consideration to the demand for self-building land in the borough.

·         Lawful development certificates were awarded in retrospect to developments that had not previously applied for planning permission. They could also be issued in advance to confirm that a development was within permitted development rights. The monitoring report did not provide a breakdown between the two kinds of certificate.

·         Enforcement action was a “last resort” option for rectifying unauthorised planning activity. Lots of informal work took place before enforcement action was carried out. Additional information could be provided about the numbers of planning contraventions that were subject to enforcement action.

·         The planning service worked with other teams at the Council (including housing) to coordinate enforcement action against rogue landlords, illegal development and planning contraventions.

·         It was difficult to get accurate representation of building control figures because applicants could apply to private providers to grant building control. Building control figures were not reported in the annual monitoring report.

·         There were very few cases in which immediate ‘article four’ directions (to remove permitted development rights) were used because of the potential for compensation.

·         The number of homes in multiple occupation which could be affected by an immediate article four direction meant that the costs for compensation might be very high.

·         Two estates in Lewisham were subject to article four directions that were not immediate. Owners had 12 months to adapt to the removal of development rights.

·         Building control and planning powers were limited when it came to the subdivision of houses into homes in multiple occupation.

·         If a property was divided into flats, building control regulations applied. In the case of a renovation of a home in multiple occupation this was not the case.

·         Planning enforcement and building control shared the same IT systems.

·         The Council had no powers to oversee the work of private building control providers. Approved providers were monitored by the regulator (the Construction Industry Council), which could remove provider licenses.

·         It was difficult to forecast the number of future affordable housing completions.


4.3    In Committee discussions the following key points were also noted:

·         Members were concerned about the sustainability of increasing levels of development in London.

·         There was concern about the status of Lewisham as a residential borough, without sufficient space for employment and business space.

·         Lots of cases of planning infringements were referred by councillors to the planning service.

·         Members requested advice from officers regarding additional powers that would be required to properly oversee the development of homes in multiple occupation.


4.4    Resolved: that the Committee would refer its views to Mayor and Cabinet as follows:

·         The Committee would welcome a short, visual, two page summary of the annual monitoring report in future editions. It asks that this include key performance indicators for the service that can be widely understood.

·         The Committee believes that allocation for self-build sites should be included in the five year housing land supply.

·         The Committee requests that additional information be provided about the number of lawful development certificates issued by the Council, including a disaggregation by type.

·         The Committee also requests that further analysis and benchmarking (with other authorities) of enforcement notices and cases be carried out.

·         The Committee recommends that a review should be undertaken of the resources currently allocated to planning enforcement and building control.

·         The Committee also recommends that the relevant cabinet member should meet with building control, the planning service and planning enforcement to identify what changes to national definitions and regulations would be needed to improve the statutory powers of these teams in order to ensure better standards and compliance in future.

·         The Committee is concerned about the loss of employment space in Lewisham and it urges the Council to consider the potential impact of the borough becoming a purely residential location.

·         The Committee plans to scrutinise the implementation of the ‘building the local economy’ priority in the corporate strategy. It intends to invite the cabinet member to a future meeting to provide an update on progress.


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