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The Greater London Authority Act received Royal Assent on 23 October, 2007, and came into force on the 6 April, 2008. It significantly increases the Mayor’s powers, giving him the power to determine planning applications of ‘potential strategic importance’ in London.

In theory, developers may now find that it will be the Mayor of London determining their major application rather than the local planning authority. However, since the election of Boris Johnson as London’s Mayor, there are already indications that Johnson intends to be less interventionist than his predecessor Ken Livingstone was in exercising his powers. Although Livingstone used his powers to direct a refusal on fewer than 4% of applications, he made frequent and widespread use of the threat of refusal to secure the London Plan’s objectives, in particular affordable housing.

A concern for many developers is that Johnson has a track record of opposition to tall buildings. In the past Johnson attacked Livingstone’s backing for skyscrapers by stating that such skyscrapers “obliterated historic views”. Johnson is also against a rigid quota of 50% affordable housing as currently enshrined in the London Plan. Instead, Johnson has pledged to build 50,000 new homes. Johnson’s stated approach is to work closely with boroughs to increase affordable housing across London. However, we have little information on how this will work in practice. Developers may now therefore choose to put together a case on viability and resubmit schemes in order to reduce the affordable housing element.

Worryingly for developers of tall buildings, Johnson recently gave an indication of how he will apply his new enhanced planning by appointing Sir Simon Milton, leader of Westminster City Council and chairman of the Local Government Association, as his senior planning adviser. Milton has also been an outspoken critic of tall buildings. The fates of several high-rise developments in London are therefore hanging in the balance.

On a positive note for developers, it is believed that Johnson and Milton will encourage local decision-making, which may result in the reduced delivery of affordable housing. However, it is a worrying sign for those that support the delivery of affordable housing in an increasingly expensive city as there is now uncertainty over the amount of affordable housing that will be delivered.

The Secretary of State’s Order which brought the Act into force sets out in detail which planning applications must be referred to the Mayor, the process to be followed for considering the applications and the tests that the Mayor must apply to decide if his intervention would be justified. The four broad categories of application that have to be referred to the Mayor are large-scale development, major infrastructure, development which may affect strategic policies and development on which the Mayor must be consulted by virtue of a direction of the Secretary of State.

The schemes that are of potential strategic importance include the following: schemes which include the provision of more than 150 houses or flats (this has been reduced from 500 to 150 to reflect the perceived need for the provision of new housing within the capital); floorspace of more than 100,000 sq m inside the physical boundaries of the City of London; floorspace of more than 20,000 sq m in Central London, but outside the City; floorspace of more than 15,000 sq m within Greater London, but outside Central London, buildings over 25 metres high adjacent to the River Thames; buildings over 150 metres high in the City of London and buildings over 30 metres high outside the City of London.

No borough can determine such an application without first sending the Mayor a statement of its proposed decision along with all relevant papers pertaining to the application. The Mayor will then have 14 days to decide whether to allow the borough to proceed with its decision, direct the borough to refuse the application or issue a direction that the Mayor is to be the local planning authority in respect of the application.

The Mayor may decide to act as the local planning authority if he considers that:

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