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Just What You Needed: More Uncertainty, With London's Tall Buildings Policy Up In The Air And Mayoral Elections In Doubt

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Mayoral elections in London will go ahead in May — perhaps. And there will be restrictions on tall building development — probably.

Both the London mayoral election and skyscraper planning policy are in doubt as the capital enters 2021.

Sadiq Khan is due to defend his seat as London Mayor on 6 May, in an election already postponed from May 2020.

Confusing messages suggest the elections could be postponed again. 

The government insists the London election will go ahead as planned whilst adding that it is keeping the situation under review.

“Measures are planned to support absent voting at short notice. Guidance will be published in good time ahead of the polls and this matter will be kept under review,” a government spokesman told City A.M.

However, the prospect of a postponement cannot be dismissed as events in Greater Manchester demonstrate. There, the mayoral election is likely to be delayed until the autumn, the BBC reported. Andy Burnham is defending the seat for Labour.

The elections come at a crucial moment for planning and development policy.

The process of adopting a new London Plan reached a crescendo just before  Christmas on 20 December 2020, when Khan published the latest, and potentially final, iteration of the plan. The government has six weeks in which to respond.

A series of disagreements between Kahn and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick have now boiled down to additional flexibility to build on industrial land — which will concern the last-mile logistics sector, already under pressure in Greater London — and new curbs on skyscrapers proposed by Jenrick.

In a letter of directions to the Mayor, Jenrick said: “There is clearly a place for tall buildings in London, especially where there are existing clusters. However, there are some areas where tall buildings don’t reflect the local character. I believe boroughs should be empowered to choose where tall buildings are built within their communities. Your draft policy goes some way to dealing with this concern. In my view we should go further and I am issuing a further Direction to strengthen the policy to ensure such developments are only brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas, as determined by the boroughs whilst still enabling gentle density across London."

Disputes over tall buildings have broken out in several neighbourhoods. Plans for a 20-storey residential tower on U.S. billionaire Taylor McWilliam's Hondo Enterprises site at Popes Road, Brixtonare now heading to Jenirck's desk after Khan rejected campaigners' appeal to rethink his support.

In Greater Manchester the Mayoral election has also become entwined with planning issues. The last six years of effort to produce a spatial framework to govern development across the 10 boroughs is troubled and perhaps ended. Disagreements in Stockport brought the process juddering to a halt late last year.