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Definition of 'strategic' too vague...
Definition of 'strategic' too vague

By Nick Golding

New planning policy guidelines for London have failed to calm worries the capital's mayor will be able to force new developments on boroughs.

The government last week gave new details about its plans to give mayor Ken Livingstone power to adjudicate on 'strategic' planning applications.

Under the proposals, now subject to consultation, the mayor must show that such applications impact on policies in his London Plan and have 'significant effects' that go beyond one borough.

Although Mr Livingstone's powers over planning applications involving waste facilities and tram stops have been clarified, many London councils fear the definition of strategic is so vague that the mayor will be able to impose new developments on unwilling councils.

In particular, there are widespread fears Mr Livingstone will use his new powers to force councils to accept high-rise developments, despite the opposition of councillors.

An Association of London Government source said: 'The problem is that it's for the mayor to decide what he thinks is strategic.'

The scope for conflict is hardly lessened by the government's expectation that disagreements about the definition of strategic 'should be resolved through discussion' between councils and the mayor.

'The option of legal challenge would be available in the event that agreement could not be reached,' the Department for Communities & Local Government Greater London Authority document states. 'We do not propose a role for the secretary of state in arbitration.'

The chairman of the Association of London Borough Planning Officers, Steve Clark, said the organisation believed boroughs, which unlike the mayor held all planning meetings in public, had the strongest democratic mandate to determine applications.

He said: 'I can see that in the future where the mayor takes on more responsibility, [councils] will need to examine more carefully whether an application is referable to the mayor.'

London boroughs have until 2 November to comment on the proposals, which could have a significant impact on how strategic applications are processed in other parts of the country.

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