Zac Goldsmith today pledged to subject housing developers to “the bright light of public scrutiny” by forcing them to publish the financial assumptions which underpin each planning application.
This data, known as a viability assessment, is used by developers when negotiating with councils about the number of affordable homes they must include on a site.
Government planning rules allow developers to reduce the amount of low cost homes where it would threaten a scheme’s viability.
Many campaigners and some politicians believe developers overstate the impact of providing such homes in order to maximise profits and say the assessments should be published alongside the planning application so that communities have confidence that the right number of homes are being built.
Conservative mayoral hopeful Mr Goldsmith, who today published his housing manifesto, says he would change London’s planning rules to ensure this becomes standard practice.
He’s also promised to set up a City Hall team to scrutinise and “interrogate these assessments” and says developers whose profits exceed projections could be subject to a “claw back mechanism”.
Goldsmith has also pledged to create a new team of “flying planners” who would be employed by City Hall but could be seconded to local councils to help assess and speed up planning applications.
Cuts to local council funding has seen many planning teams scaled back as councils seek to make savings without cutting frontline services.
There’s some concern that depleted planning teams are both slowing down the granting of planning permission and leaving councils ‘out gunned’ by developers whose own teams are larger and better resourced.
By employing his own team of planners and making these available to councils, Goldsmith would hope to ensure councils are better placed to challenge developers.
He’s also promised to publish a league table showing how many affordable homes each developer is contributing to ensure that local councils and communities can easily hold them to account.
The City Hall planners would work alongside a new ‘Chief Architect for London’ who would help Goldsmith deliver on his pledge to build 50,000 homes per year.
His support for the Government’s Housing Bill has led Goldsmith’s Labour rival, Sadiq Khan, to accuse him of believing homes worth £450,000 – the maximum price of the Government’s starter homes – are “affordable”.
In a bid to counter the attack, Goldsmith today said homes created during his mayoralty would need to be affordable to “teachers, nurses and policemen” as well as private sector workers earning “average salaries”.
His housing manifesto commits the Tory candidate to amending planning rules so that all new developments support “genuinely mixed” communities as well as giving a voice to local residents about the look and nature of each development.
Goldsmith said: “As Mayor, I will not just build more homes but build better homes too, working with my new Chief Architect and local communities to design a London we will all be proud to call our home.”
Londoners will elect a new Mayor and the 25 members of the London Assembly on May 5th. Candidates for Mayor include Conservative Zac Goldsmith, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, the Green party’s Sian Berry and UKIP’s Peter Whittle.