In the Zone

The Mayor published the Central Activities Zone (CAZ) Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) document in September, with a public consultation running until 8th December (2015).

The SPG provides additional guidance on the implementation on the London Plan’s policies for the CAZ and those of relevance to the Isle of Dogs/Canary Wharf. Of particular importance, it provides new guidance, on the balance to be taken in planning decisions between residential and ‘CAZ Strategic Functions’ – including business, culture, entertainment, shopping and tourism.

CAZ table

The CAZ, spans 10 authorities and accommodates one third of London’s jobs and generates almost 10% of the UK’s output. The publication of this SPG marks recognition of the CAZ’s unique role in the London and UK economy and the need for specific strategic planning guidance to ensure Central London’s continued economic success and global competitiveness. We have summarized some of the key highlights below.

Striking a Balance between Residential and Strategic CAZ functions

In general terms The SPG places greater emphasis on the strategic functions of the CAZ relative to housing, with a hierarchy of weight to be afforded to offices and CAZ Strategic Functions (see appended table). It is very clear that residential is not appropriate within the core commercial areas of the City of London and the birth of the Isle of Dogs.

At the same time it recognises that some parts of the Zone are home to established communities and will play an important role in delivering new residential development – in these areas ‘equal relative weight can be given’ to residential and strategic functions.

The underlying message is that the need to accommodate housing growth does not have to be at the expense of the business, culture and other strategic functions of the Zone. This will undoubtedly be welcomed by the business community. However, we expect that some careful thought will need to be given to the wording of the final SPG so as not to alienate its existing residential communities.

Supporting Office Development

In seeking to address the significant losses in office stock that have occurred within the CAZ, a particular focus of the SPG is seeking to protect and promote office uses within the CAZ through a combination of mechanisms:

  • A strategic approach to co-ordinating Article 4 directions to protect against the offices to residential permitted development rights to replace current exemptions. Where this will be extended, boroughs should provide locally based evidence;
  • Reinforcing London Plan requirements for losses in office floorspace to be rebalanced by a proportionate replacement on site or nearby (or cash in lieu) alongside new guidance on the factors to be considered in planning decisions involving the loss of offices (that demand, viability and marketing evidence);
  •  The introduction of a set of monitoring benchmarks for small offices in the CAZ for use by the GLA and Boroughs. As yet, no guidance is provided on how this data will be used in terms of triggering changes in local policy approaches or their application;
  • New guidance on mixed use policies, where increases in office floorspace are expected to provide for a mix of uses including housing, recognising the impact that this will have on the viability of development. Policy changes include the introduction of a default threshold – 200sq.m Gross Internal Area or 30% of the existing floorspace and further use of land use swaps and credits including beyond the CAZ.

Cultural and Night Time Economy

The SPG places a greater emphasis on the importance of cultural uses to Central London and seeks to expand their protection outside of the London Plan’s identified Strategic Cultural Areas. These are areas within the CAZ which contain the most significant clusters of cultural and entertainment uses and visitor attractions (for example, the West End, Southbank/bankside/London Bridge, North Bank, Knightsbridge and South Kensington Museum quarter).

This protection includes widening the definition of cultural activities and venues from theatres, galleries and concert halls to include dedicated live music, comedy and dance venues and encouraging boroughs to extend this to pubs, restaurants and clubs ‘which provide opportunities for transitory and informal creative and cultural performances, e.g. fringe theatre, live music, or comedy, alongside primary uses’.

The SPG’s guidance marks as step change in London Plan guidance and policy in putting the interests of culture and the night time economy, particularly in important clusters such as Soho, the West End and Shoreditch, above residential development.

In particular, it advises that new residential development in these locations should include mitigation measures such as acoustic insulation, placement of rooms and open space at an early stage. Again, this is likely to be largely welcomed by the business community, however, how the guidance is worded so as not to alienate existing residential communities will need to be carefully considered.

Meeting the CAZ’s Housing Needs

The SPG recognises the scarcity of land and the ability of the CAZ to meet housing needs whilst accommodating economic and business growth through sustaining its strategic functions and suggests that boroughs should look to areas of inner London outside of the CAZ and the CAZ fringes together with estate renewal to meet housing needs.

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