How will London accelerate the construction of the housing that the capital desperately needs? At LPA’s Politics of Planning conference, a panel of experts came up with plenty of suggestions for mayor Sadiq Khan, and his deputy James Murray, to consider.
With the scale of the problem not in dispute ever since the 2011 census revealed how the capital’s population was mushrooming, all agreed that a range of solutions was needed, to get homes built. While many of the solutions have been heard before, there were some new ideas as well as the valuable reinforcement of views from those in the trenches defining policy and actually taking individuals off local waiting lists.
Ric Blakeway, former deputy mayor for housing, said the capital’s suburbs are key, while there needs to be greater effort to link development with new infrastructure. He said there are “great opportunities” to revitalise London’s hundreds of small town centres, reflecting: “I strongly felt there was more we could do in the suburbs.” But he warned against trying cookie cutter solutions, saying an individual approach was needed in each location.
He noted Merton’s scheme to revitalise Morden which he said was “a genuinely world class product – but you couldn’t simply lift it and paste it elsewhere.”
A more integrated approach is still needed to link planning around infrastructure improvements, he warned. “We don’t have mechanisms in place to capture the value that is created.”
He also said that the housing debate needs to focus on “who are we housing?” Aside from affordable homes and the poor, he said that London has a massive mid market which needs accommodating.
Blakeway said new entrants would be needed to boost housebuilding, noting that the private housebuilders were never going to deliver the volumes needed: “They will not be in a position to double housebuilding.”
And John Adams, head of planning at Deloitte, agreed, suggesting local authorities will have “an essential part” to play. Looking a decade ahead, he speculated that local authorities would be delivering 10% of housing, the build to rent sector 15%, and 5% would come from new garden village settlements. He also noted that “later homes” for older people would also start to play a significant part in the market.
Having worked closely with Transport for London to select development partners for their new surplus sites development programme, Adams also said that the mayor’s Home for Londoners initiative will help free up more public land. “We think that’s going to be absolutely critical in helping the supply side.” He also suggested that local plans ought to specify particular sites for build to rent development.
Deloitte is also feeling the impact of the tight, expensive private housing market in London. The company is working with Get Living London in order to house around 100 of its graduate intake at East Village. “This is of huge importance to London’s ability to attract global talent,” said Adams of the issue.
Adams also called for a fresh start in the debate on density, adding: “As an industry we need to be much better at referring to best practice.”
Jon Gooding, chief executive of Dolphin Living, echoed Adams’ concerns about costs. “We’re getting to the point where London overall is becoming unaffordable to the average Londoner,” he warned. Dolphin is experimenting with flexible rents, set at a percentage of net income, at its New Era Estate in Hoxton, but he was clear that rent control will only scare off developers, as happened in previous decades. “Fixing rents is absolutely not the way to go,” but he suggested “local authoritieis should prescribe a rent envelope” which could be written into section 106 agreements.
“The number one issue is public land,” added Gooding, suggesting that public land could be covenanted in perpetuity for rental housing; or, alternatively, there could be a separate planning use class – an issue hotly debated elsewhere.
Conservative councillor Tony Devenish, who chairs the GLA Planning Committee, was keener on the market delivering, indicating there is little appetite for new regulation at the mayor’s office. “I hope that when the mayor’s SPG comes in, that’s the last piece of meddling for some time.”
He is keen to encourage smaller residential developers back into the market, declaring “there’s lots of land to go round – let the private sector lead.” He also proposed keeping the freehold of public sites.
LPA Perspective: Plenty of food for thought, and the common theme was that there are a multitude of actors who can play their part in delivering the solution of more homes.
It sounds as though new regulation will be unlikely, though the promised, imminent SPG should give greater clarity on the handling of viability and affordable homes provision.
TfL’s first tranche of sites is now starting to move towards planning approval and construction, and the scale of their aspirations will be significant. It is to be hoped that their action will spur on others, such as the NHS, to be similarly focused.
Adams’s analysis that the older generation need to be considered is a wake-up call for a sector that, to date, has few focused actors working within it. McCarthy & Stone and Pegasus Life are busy putting together projects in a niche that ought to be bigger, and should be offering more options. And, as a recent permission for assisted care apartments in Kensington & Chelsea demonstrated, there are opportunities at many price points in the London market.
There is also growing support for Jon Gooding’s suggestion that land for rented homes needs a special use-class to prevent developers of homes for sale outbidding those institutions interested in rented housing.