Tower Hamlets Council: Cabinet approves draft plans to force developers to build more affordable homes

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The draft local plan still has several stages to go through before it is formally adopted, which is earmarked for winter 2025.

An east London council which has experienced the fastest population growth in England over the last decade has approved draft plans to try and force developers to increase the number of affordable homes built on-site.

Tower Hamlets Council’s cabinet, led by its executive mayor Lutfur Rahman and his Aspire Party, last night (October 25) passed its draft local plan, which will go to consultation on November 6 and will run for six weeks.

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Local plans are adopted by councils to set out the priorities and frameworks guiding developments within a borough. Tower Hamlets Council’s draft details not just policies regarding affordable homes, but a range of considerations key to housebuilding, from carbon emissions and energy efficiency to height.

Housing in front of Canary Wharf, in Tower Hamlets. Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images.Housing in front of Canary Wharf, in Tower Hamlets. Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images.
Housing in front of Canary Wharf, in Tower Hamlets. Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images.

Between 2011 and 2021, the population of Tower Hamlets increased by 22.1%, from 254,100 to 310,300, the fastest growth of any local authority in England.

Central to mayor Rahman’s 2022 manifesto, when he and his Aspire Party defeated the incumbent Labour group at the polling booth, was the promise he would build thousands of social homes in the coming years.

Among the policies listed in the draft local plan are three related to affordable housing delivery. Namely, that a minimum of 40% of homes must be affordable on-site when delivering 10 or more units, a minimum of 50% on-site when developing on current on former public sector land, plus several other instances, and that the affordable units delivered must be 85% social rented homes and 15% intermediate.

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While the 50% minimum rate for developments on public sector land is the same as in the mayor’s London Plan, which sets planning policy at a city-wide level, the 40% minimum for developments 10 units or above is more ambitious than the 35% set for individual sites by City Hall.

There is also a push to build taller in Tower Hamlets. The draft local plan states that “greater height will be considered in a wider range of locations across the borough, with the additional density provided by these developments balanced out by a correspondingly greater level of affordable housing delivery. 

“Important locations, such as conservation areas and nature sites, will still be protected from the potential negative impacts of taller buildings, but a greater level of height and densification will be considered in less sensitive areas of the borough, and should be focused around locations with high levels of accessibility to transport, shops, and other facilities.”

During last night’s meeting, mayor Rahman praised the document as “a fantastic piece of work” which should help tackle some of the acute housing issues in the borough.

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“As a local authority we weren’t ambitious enough when it came to regeneration, planning, housing supply and housebuilding,” he said.

“What this will give us is the policy change we are trying to implement, through the proper process, so we can not only build up…so we can seriously try and build up.”

Following the cabinet meeting, mayor Rahman told LondonWorld: “A lack of social rented homes and acute overcrowding have meant that not all our residents can reside in good quality, affordable homes. 

“These issues are symptoms of the housing crisis, and as one of the most densely populated and fastest growing areas in the country, we are more severely impacted.  

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“The proposed 40% target for affordable homes would help us to deliver an ambitious number of new homes, with a focus on larger, family-sized social rented homes.

“It is time to act on the housing shortage and improve the lives of residents across the borough. I strongly encourage all those who live or work in the borough to respond to our local plan consultation.”

Once the consultation ends, the local plan will then undergo several further steps, including submission to the planning inspectorate. It is expected to be adopted in winter 2025.

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