Just a third of London councils have social rent home planning targets

Councils are in trouble again as a study finds those in London aren't using their planning powers to fight poverty – but local authorities say their hands are tied by a lack of funding from central government

Campaigners have hit out at London councils for failing to properly tackle poverty through their planning powers.

Nearly a third of councils in the capital neglected to include issues like poverty and social inclusion as areas of action for the borough when setting out local plans, despite these being major problems for residents right across London.

And only 29 per cent of councils have set a target for social rent housing (as opposed to the ambiguous, and often unaffordable, ‘affordable’ housing) in the area, a new report from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has revealed.

The same study showed that nearly 60 per cent of councils have no requirement for like-for-like re-provision of affordable housing.

Laura Heykoop, projects and manager at the TCPA, said planning is key when it comes to promoting equality, reducing poverty and achieving social justice.

She added: “At the same time, however, there is the very real risk that planning processes can do harm and can reinforce and entrench existing inequalities.

“For planning to deliver inclusive outcomes, people – especially those who are often under-represented in planning processes and often most at risk of being disproportionately negatively affected by planning outcomes – need to be at the heart of the process.”

However the report showed that only 12 per cent of councils outline a clear commitment for real collaboration with the local community.

“The research shows that while some local authorities in London are making positive moves to embed equality and inclusion within their local plan policies, the majority are failing to develop planning policy that goes far enough in challenging poverty and inequality,” Heykoop said.

DID YOU KNOW…

There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

“The report highlights the multiple power imbalances that exist between communities, local authorities and developers, and argues that the transformation required for the planning system … will require both practical shifts in planning practice and fundamental shifts in power.”

Many of the councils researchers spoke to for the study blamed a lack of funding from central government, saying it would undermine even the strongest planning policies.

A London Councils spokesperson told The Big Issue: “London boroughs take action on several fronts to alleviate poverty and tackle homelessness across the capital – not just through their planning powers.

“Due to funding constraints, however, it become increasingly difficult for housing associations and councils to deliver homes that are genuinely affordable for local residents.

“Looking beyond the election, London Councils would like to see an increase in funding for affordable housing and greater restrictions on permitted development. This would enable more local control over planning, and greater provision of affordable housing.”

Also concerned by how councils are using their planning powers, food charity Sustain is calling on the government to establish new planning policies that will stop fast food chains opening near schools. The campaigners said councils currently don’t have the power to keep them out of certain areas.

Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of Sustain, said: “Planning policies to restrict new hot food takeaways near schools are one of the few concrete ways local authorities have to stop their areas becoming even more saturated with unhealthy food.

“Yet even these tools are coming under attack, with local authorities lacking capacity to provide adequate evidence to stand up to the resources of multinational chains.

“Unlike the government’s aims to halve child obesity – it’s almost as if these businesses want to double child obesity by 2030.”