• Ideas for new housing body

Lobby group London First has called on the mayor to create Homes for Londoners, a body proposed during his mayoral campaign, to deliver the homes the capital needs.
In a new report prepared with law firm Dentons, it calls on the mayor to create a “muscular” body to get home production going. It says the new body should get public land ready for development, support boroughs, lobby central government, support housing associations and offer financial assistance to housing providers.
Alongside the report came another study led by Grant Thornton, seeking the views on the housing crisis and its impact for employers. A survey found 72% of employers are concerned about the impact housing issues have on employee recruitment and retention.
The Homes for Londoners report sets out a blueprint for the new body, saying: “HfL’s primary initial role should be getting public land ready for development. Where practicable, HfL should assemble sites around core public land-holdings; set out an acceptable level of density for development; and offer them to the market with clear requirements about the mix of tenures required.”
Such a body could encourage innovation such as increasing modular construction, and could support smaller developers who have found it hard to access and build out smaller sites across the capital. The report also suggests HfL could act as a broker, exchanging affordable housing commitments between boroughs and helping them to deliver more quickly.
The report also sees a role for HfL in getting housing associations into better shape, and increasing their building programmes in an environment where grant support is diminishing.
HfL could also be a proactive, hands-on body, says the report. “Issuing additional guidance must also be backed up by resource on the ground. HfL should be this resource, with a dedicated team to support the boroughs to meet the requirements of the SPG, and to create detailed work plans, equivalent to a business plan, to provide greater certainty to the private sector. This team would also continue the positive work done by the GLA to date to drive forward the HZs initiative.”
Jonathan Seager, housing director at London First, said: “The case for Homes for Londoners is clear. London must double its rate of housebuilding if it is to adequately house a growing population and keep the city competitive. A step change in delivery is required now.”
Stephen Ashworth, partner at global law firm Dentons, said: “In London we are falling lamentably and wilfully short of delivering the number of homes that we all need – and that is unacceptable and dangerous.”
Deputy mayor for housing James Murray said in response to the publication of the report: “We are working closely with London First, and very much welcome the suggestions in their report about setting up ‘Homes for Londoners’. Many of the ideas in the report are in line with plans we have been taking forward since the election, and we will continue to work with London First as we take our proposals forward.”

LPA Perspective: Is another public body needed? The one envisaged by London First is more akin to the development corporations such as the LDDC of the 1980s, being very hands-on and getting stuff done. That’s a laudable aim, and perhaps one that James Murray and his leader will take note of.
For any such body to really work, it will also need finance and the powers to act quickly and without deference to too many other bodies. Otherwise, it will simply become another layer of bureaucracy.

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