The GLA is working hard to address London’s alarming shortfall in housing provision with a series of initiatives including getting more out of brownfield land and speeding up delivery of major projects.
That was the news from a breakfast session on the subject this morning at the NLA, at which Richard Blakeway, Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property at the GLA and the authority’s executive director of housing and land David Lunts dealt with issues such as family homes, the Green Belt, self-build and the scope for more rental in the capital. This is in the run up to the end of consultation over the draft London housing Strategy, on February 17.
In the 1930s, said Blakeway, London delivered 80,000 homes a year in London – today it was essential that there should be significantly more contribution in Zones 3-6 and that a full range of housing should be catered for, including family units. But although London will continue to be a popular place for people starting careers and families, said Lunts, ‘there needs to be a better offer for that customer base.’ The current climate makes it hard for them to become beneficiaries of ‘mainstream affordable housing’, so the GLA’s strategy includes moves to improve standards in the sector, along with efforts to encourage more long-term investment in rental housing. ‘London will pioneer a lot of that because there is so much demand’, he said.
In some quarters there have been appeals for London to relax the Green Belt as a spur to getting more housing delivered, but both Lunts and Blakeway said this was unlikely given the national electoral mandate this would require. Besides, many of those sites would not have the kind of transport infrastructure required to support such developments. In any case, said Lunts, ‘I’m not as convinced as some that it would deliver vast numbers of homes’. Blakeway added that it was also very important not to overlook the opportunities represented by brownfield sites. ‘You can’t solve London’s housing problems by building homes in other parts of the country’, he said. Some areas – such as Ebbsfleet – did already have good infrastructure in place, along with proximity to the Bluewater shopping centre, so it was a mystery why no one is building homes there, said Lunts. Housing opportunities could also be better exploited near Crossrail stations, where benefits could be accrued by using both imagination and CPO powers. Similarly, there are still parts of London that are relatively inexpensive that Londoners are still resistant to move to, while outer London’s high streets and town centres could be stimulated by accommodating more housing. There is a challenge, too, across the whole public sector on its sites and particularly with the NHS, said Blakeway, but strides are being made with the mayor’s landholding. Some 85% of this 650ha or so is now either developed, in a development agreement or to market, he said.
Pace of delivery is also a problem, with a mix of tax incentives, planning and land assembly powers to drive development and speed things up. This will be supplemented by a series of 10 Housing Zones, with a discussion paper from GLA on that on the way and an aim to commission some by March. Another discussion paper will be produced on the London Housing Bank, aimed at using money for housing more ‘intelligently’. Lunts added that there is a move to speed through developments by looking at things the other way round, making funding and support mechanisms fit the project. The GLA also has a programme to support self-build but it was difficult, Lunts said, to see it as a major part of the picture, with the considerable barriers to housing in London making it not for the faint-hearted. By the same token, it was clear that providing an environment where more housebuilders get involved in London – perhaps from Hong Kong, Malaysia and China could be a potential boon. Finally, London needed to do better in terms of dealing with the ‘complex challenge’ of producing more older people’s housing, especially given projections in the numbers of over 85 year olds in the capital.
‘If you’re in the housing game you have to be an optimist, at least in the heart’, said Lunts. ‘London is impatient to have a serious conversation about getting homes built.’
David Taylor, New London Quarterly