War of words escalates as Jenrick scolds Mayor's lack of housing ambition

As his Cabinet Office colleagues battened down the hatches and postponed May's English local government elections, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick gave Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, a Friday the thirteenth to forget.

In a scathing letter to the Mayor, Jenrick criticised Khan's "deeply disappointing" record of housing delivery, "lack of ambition" displayed in his Intention to Publish version of the London Plan and the "underachievement and drift" of his Mayoralty.  If that wasn't enough, the Secretary of State directed that the Mayor must not publish his Plan until he incorporates the eight pages of directions appended to the letter.

Jenrick took aim at the shortfall between the homes the Plan seeks to deliver and London's significant identified housing need.  Echoing some criticisms that will be familiar to the development industry, the Secretary of State bemoaned the prescriptive nature of the Plan and its "added layers of complexity that will make development more difficult unnecessarily".  Some of his key directions include removing protections on strategic industrial land, bringing green belt policy in line with national policy and giving a greater steer on site maximisation and the most suitable locations for higher density development.

Jenrick's parting shot called for the Mayor to provide reassurances that he will "raise [his] housing ambitions for the capital", failing which the Secretary of State is "prepared to consider all options, including new legislation if necessary".  Not one to take criticism lying down, Sadiq Khan responded on Friday to accuse the Secretary of State of "trying to run roughshod" over his efforts to finalise the Plan, and to call for the devolution to the Mayor of further funding and powers to deliver homes.

So what next for Sadiq?  Well, having found some unexpected time in his diary between now and May (and a whole extra year until the rearranged elections), the Mayor will have to decide whether to swallow his pride and incorporate Jenrick's changes to the Plan or go back to the drawing board completely.  The development industry will hope that the two warring parties can find some consensus – and with that, some certainty – quickly.


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