Homes for Londoners
1. The Labour mayoral candidate’s promise to double the number of homes built in London to 50,000 a year is part of an offer, which was made to the Government by the London Housing Commission this week, in return for greater mayoral powers to force local authorities to make more public land available for private residential developments, and is therefore in accord with the planning legislation in the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill.
– The assertion that London needs 50,000 new homes a year for the next decade has become a widely accepted fact that remains to be proved, but whose constant repetition has silenced the question of whether it is based on the housing needs of Londoners or on the profits to be made in London’s vastly inflated housing market, whose speculators and beneficiaries are the source of its repeated assertion.
– Both these opening statements would not look out of place (and will no doubt be included) in the manifesto of the Conservative mayoral candidate, and in no way contradict that Party’s housing policies or philosophy.
Homes for Londoners to rent and buy
– Although the Labour mayoral candidate’s identification of London’s need for ‘homes for social rent’ is a welcome change from both the Labour and Conservative Party’s obsession with building homes to buy, nowhere else in this manifesto does he propose policies to back up the promise he makes here of ‘supporting councils and housing association to build’.
– The promise to build homes for a ‘London Living Rent’ based on one-third of average local wages is also a welcome one, but it is unclear where these homes are to be built. These can (and no doubt will) be interpreted as homes built in the outer boroughs of Greater London to accommodate residents evicted from Central London housing estates by either Labour-led estate regeneration programmes or legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill.
– The promise to build homes for first-time buyers on ‘other public land’ is consistent with Government legislation to build Starter Homes on the land currently occupied by existing council estates, and is, once again, in accord with the legislation for the eviction of residents from London’s council estates contained in the Housing and Planning Bill.
– The promise to give Londoners ‘first-dibs’ to build on ‘brownfield land’ does not take account of the Government’s stated intentions to recategorise and redevelop council estates as such, which is not only at the heart of the Conservative Party’s rhetoric on housing, but also the platform on which the Conservative mayoral candidate is running his own campaign.
– In this light, the promise to use the mayor’s planning powers ‘to their full extent’ takes on the tone of a threat, which has already been issued by the London Land Commission, to compel local authorities to make a register of all public land, including all housing estates, with the purpose of identifying and unlocking brownfield land for development.
– As a definition of what the mayoral candidate calls ‘genuinely affordable homes’, the manifesto, despite its assertions, does not offer anything quantifiably different from the Tory Government’s definition of affordable homes at up to 80% of market rate, or from its policy of building Starter Homes for private investment funded at a 20% discount by the State.
Homes for Londoners will drive up homebuilding
– The identification of ‘other public sector land’ as a means of increasing homebuilding is consistent not only with the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill, but also with the London Land Commission Register, the Adonis Report, City Villages: more homes, better communities, and the Savills Report, Completing London’s Streets – all of which identify the demolition of London’s local authority housing estates as their point of departure.
– The manifesto’s promise to build ‘genuinely affordable homes’ lacks any definition beyond the vague promises already given and the absence of any clear figures of what constitutes affordable and for whom.
– The promise to ‘maximise the affordable housing in new developments’ is meaningless unless the Housing and Planning Bill’s legislation to replace Section 106 agreements with the new duty to build Starter Homes is addressed.
– The promise to help councils and housing associations ‘to invest their land’ is a clearer indication of how the mayoral candidate intends to honour his earlier promise to ‘support councils and housing associations to build’, and as such a complete departure from the ideology of public housing.
– The promise to give councils the powers to borrow money for investing in building new homes is welcome, but not with the qualification of investing that money in ‘affordable housing’.
– Nowhere in these plans for homebuilding in the capital does the mayoral candidate make any promise to build council housing; nor, beyond the earlier identification of the need for homes for social rent, is anything said about how such homes might be built within the framework of the proposals put forward in the manifesto.
Supporting renters and homeowners
– The promise to give councils ‘a greater say’ in strengthening renters’ rights over tenancies and rent rises is welcome. However, nothing is said about the much-needed introduction of a rent cap; nor, given the powers that the Housing and Planning Bill will withdraw from local authorities, and which the manifesto has expressed a commitment to enforce, is it clear how these rights will be strengthened by councils.
– The declaration of the mayoral candidate’s opposition to the Housing and Planning Bill’s attacks on social housing through Pay to Stay and the enforced sale of so-called High Value council housing is welcome, but incompatible with his building programme. We note that this is the only time in the section of the mayoral candidate’s manifesto devoted to housing that it mentions ‘council housing’, and that it immediately follows this with a promise to build ‘new social housing and other genuinely affordable homes’. If the mayoral candidate believes these are the same thing, he is misinformed.
– The requirement that estate regeneration only take place when there is: 1) ‘resident support’, 2) ‘full and transparent consultation’, 3) ‘it does not result in the loss of social housing’, 4) ‘all other options have been exhausted’, and 5) tenants have the ‘right to return’ and leaseholders are given a ‘fair deal’ – is one we will hold the mayoral candidate to in the event of his election.
– However, we challenge the mayoral candidate to identify any estate community that 1) supports the demolition of their homes, and 2) thinks that the consultation process has been either full or transparent; and we remind him 3) that council housing is not social housing, and that the replacement of secured tenancies by assured tenancies on increased rents and reduced rights is also a loss, and one unnecessary to genuine estate regeneration; 4) that the options exhausted must take account of more than the profit margins of property developers established by their own viability assessments, as has occurred in every estate regeneration scheme in London that has ended in demolition, and must include, as its priority, the continued existence of the community the estate houses; and 5) that a right to return to homes a resident can afford neither to rent nor to buy is no right at all, and as meaningless a guarantee as the promise of a fair deal.
– The promise to implement programmes to ‘tackle the source of homelessness’ says nothing about the nature of those programmes, and is therefore indistinguishable from the rising incidents of Labour boroughs implementing Public Space Protection Orders to criminalise homelessness, about which abuse of legislation the mayoral candidate also says nothing.
– The promise to engage in prevention measures ‘such as family mediation’ as a programme of tackling homelessness displays both an ignorance of the causes of homelessness and a willingness to adopt the Conservative Government’s demonisation of working-class families as a means of avoiding addressing the effects of its cuts to social services, welfare and housing.
– The promise to coordinate councils’ efforts to place homeless people in ‘private rented housing’ is an indictment of the lack of provision elsewhere in the manifesto either to maintain existing council estates or to build new council housing, and accords with Labour councils’ enforced displacement of tens of thousands of families out of their borough or London itself.
Planning for the Future
– The promise to make segregated entrances for affordable housing ‘indistinguishable’ from those serving the remainder of a residential development falls well short, in both moral vision and honesty, of the ban on ‘poor doors’ this promise should have made, and has no place on a Labour mayoral candidate’s manifesto that claims to be ‘for all Londoners’.
– Architects for Social Housing