North London groups worry for high streets and affordable housing but government says planning reforms will create more homes

Residential streets in Muswell Hill. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Residential streets in Muswell Hill. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA - Credit: PA

Highgate and Hampstead — being in conservation areas — should both be protected from the most radical planning changes unveiled by the government last week. But civic groups have raised concerns about what the new proposals could mean for affordable housing and the health of the high streets in N6 and NW3.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA - Credit: PA

The government has unveiled reforms which would see a zoning system class areas as either “growth”, “protected”, or “renewal”, while also making it easier to convert empty shops into homes. It would replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and section 106 agreements, which require developers to provide affordable housing provision with a new system.

A consultation on the white paper is open until October 29.

Richard Webber, committee member on the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum, said: “The measures to increase housebuilding will predominantly affect areas outside of the Ham&High’s readership. We are not going to see massive new estates in Highgate.”

He said he thought Highgate itself would not be drastically affected, but he worried what a high street with more housing and fewer shops would look like.

“Looking forward, it is doubtful that we will be able to sustain as many ships in the village, and the same is double true for the Archway Road,” he said.

“This is where proposals making it easier to turn empty shops into homes would matter – there needs to be some thought.

Most Read

“If shops were randomly turned into houses it really would be a terrible shame.”

In Hampstead, a land-use campaign group told the Ham&High it thought scrapping Section 106 agreements was a backwards step.

The NW3 Community Land Trust said it agreed with Whitehall’s aim of increasing housebuilding but added: “It must be housing that ordinary people can afford.”

The group said changes would “reduce the pressure” on developers to build affordable homes.

Camden Council’s planning chief Cllr Danny Beales echoed concerns about affordable housing, and said plans to expand permitted development could “further kill off the high street”.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once-in-a-generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.

“As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system,”

The government says the reforms would mean:

“Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible.”

“Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined.”

“Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years.”

“Every area to have a local plan in place – currently only 50% of local areas has a plan to build more homes.”

“The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal.”

“A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay.”

“The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.”

“An ambition that new ‘zero-carbon ready’ homes delivered under our new system will not require any future retrofitting.”

Visit for a consultation on the white paper, which is open until October 29.