Sadiq Khan - a man without a plan?

From this week's Planning Magazine

Published on by Perry Miller

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The article below is taken from this week's Planning Magazine. http://www.planningresource.co.uk/

In the last of a series of columns on the London mayoral election, Perry Miller of communications consultancy PPS Group examines the key planning challenges facing new mayor Sadiq Khan.

City Hall: will house new ‘Homes for Londoners’ team

The population of London is growing by about 100,000 each year and expected to exceed 10 million by 2030. That's about 2,000 people arriving (one way or another) each week. In other words, since Sadiq Khan was elected mayor, the capital's population has grown by about 8,000. 

I'm going to stick my neck out here, but I would hazard a guess that we haven't built 4,000 homes over the past four weeks to accommodate them. In fact, figures show that just 6,300 new homes were built in London in the first three months of this year; almost 40 per cent fewer than in the same period last year.

And there's the problem in a nutshell: we're simply not building enough houses. And our choice is either to build more or watch as people start to drift away from the city. London First recently published figures which show that the average rent for a one-bedroom flat in the capital is more than the entire salary of someone working full-time for the national living wage.

And yet, the winning mayoral candidate, elected by 1.3 million people in an election where housing was seen as the biggest issue facing the capital, never really explained how he would tackle this challenge. There were - and still are - a number of tactical policies (proposed rent controls, 'use it or lose it', etc.) but they all assume homes are going to be built. It is no surprise, then, that Khan is already turning his fire on his predecessor for doing too little and warning that the situation can 'not be turned round overnight'.

Of all the mayoral candidates, Khan was the one who avoided signing up to a specific housing target, preferring to focus on his aspiration to achieve 50 per cent affordable provision of whatever is delivered. His appointment of James Murray, executive member for housing at the London Borough of Islington, as his deputy mayor for policy and planning shows he means business on this score. Islington Council has been at the vanguard of challenging developers' viability reports and seeking to impose 50 per cent affordable housing across the borough. Developers will tell you that it is one of the toughest boroughs in London in which to do business. That said, Ken Livingstone also started out demanding 50 per cent affordable housing, and inevitably accepted 30 per cent.

For now, housing associations are urging Khan to stick to his guns. They argue that the imbalance between supply and demand is more than sufficient to drive price growth and support land values. The Home Builders Federation, on the other hand, warns that in the context of severe financial pressures and soaring construction costs, affordable provision needs to be more realistic. The mayor has rushed to lower expectations, saying that Boris Johnson "grossly let down Londoners by leaving the cupboard bare when it comes to delivering affordable housing".

There are two schemes that Johnson called in prior to the election that have yet to be determined - Bishopsgate Goods Yard and Wimbledon Stadium - both of which have attracted criticism for the level of affordable provision they offer. If Khan seeks to extract higher numbers of affordable homes, then his treatment of these schemes will be a marker for the months ahead. Boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, which saw a number of decisions taken out of its hands by the previous mayor, could feel emboldened to aim higher and dig in their heels. Whether this is serving the greater good is arguable: it was the Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith MP, who said that "50 per cent of nothing is still nothing".

But these are planning problems that will need to be solved once the land has been secured, and the mayor's first priority must be finding the land in the first place. With building on green belt ruled out (for now at least), he has boxed himself into a brownfield corner.

One priority will be the disposal of surplus land owned by Transport for London (TfL). Last October, TfL announced that it was to release 300 acres of land for 10,000 new homes over the next decade - i.e. 1,000 homes per annum on average. Assuming that these were the most readily available and viable sites, the rest can be presumed to be somewhat trickier to deliver. These sites are where Khan will want to insist on his election pledges: 50 per cent affordable; 'first dibs' for Londoners; a London Living Rent (set at a third of renters' income). None of these will have developers reaching for their cheque books.

The mayor and his Housing for Londoners team are also likely to look to the London Land Commission, the so-called 'Domesday Book' of publicly owned land in the capital. Despite Khan's dismissal of the survey as "flawed", the first cut identified the potential for as many as 130,000 homes on surplus sites across London. The trick will be to combat inertia on the part of the public bodies, as the mayor has no powers to compel.

Londoners really cannot wait. Otherwise, they may just take advantage of the proposed freeze on TfL fares and move out.

Perry Miller

Perry Miller about the author…

Perry’s career has been defined by his involvement in politics and public affairs. After early years spent working in the Conservative Research Department and as a Special Adviser in the Major Government of the early nineties, he joined the UK’s first, and arguably foremost, Westminster lobbying agency where he advised a range of blue-chip clients.

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