Peoples Question Time in Hillingdon tonight

Your chance to put questions directly to Mayor Johnson is tonight, when Peoples Question Time comes to Hillingdon.

This twice yearly session gives Londoners the chance to question the Mayor and the London Assembly and find out about their plans and priorities for the city.

The topics to be discussed at tonight’s event are:

  • Growing London’s economy
  • Housing
  • Transport
  • Environment
  • Policing and community safety

If you live in Hillingdon, this is a great opportunity to challenge the Mayor about the issues that matter to you, from Heathrow expansion to development on the Green Belt.

The event is today, Thursday 26 November from 7-9pm at the Beck Theatre, Grange Road, Hayes, Middlesex. Tickets are available to book here.

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Here’s how developers wriggle out of building enough affordable housing

This piece originally appeared on CityMetric

Are developers gaming the system to avoid making their fair contribution to affordable housing?

Just as more affordable homes are needed, fewer and fewer are being provided by developers. In 2007-08, 1,560 homes were funded entirely through planning obligations. Since then the totals have significantly declined, and last year, only 300 new affordable homes were funded entirely without grant.

And this is all the more disheartening when you consider that public subsidy for affordable housing has fallen since 2010, making private sector contributions through planning obligations even more important.

Some – including the mayor of London – have expressed concerns that developers are using the “dark arts” to calculate how much money they can contribute to pay for affordable housing, calculations known as “viability assessments”.

I have spoken out against the way some developers appear to be rigging viability assessments to inflate their costs and underestimate the value of the scheme on paper, and then claim there is no money left over for affordable housing. This could be done in the full knowledge that the actual costs and the actual values will be different.

At a meeting last week of the London Assembly Planning Committee, which I chair, we gathered some real insight into the issues from our guests. They cited various factors holding back councils in negotiating for more affordable homes:

The National Planning Policy Framework

We heard time and time again at the meeting that the new system of planning, introduced in 2012, emphasised that the level of “obligations and policy burdens” placed on a development should not threaten its viability. The policy framework and the guidance, taken with other government actions such as giving developers the right to force renegotiation, indicates the policy could be weighted in favour of developers.

But as we heard from guests – the interpretation of this is confused, especially alongside other guidance. The process is saturated with uncertainty.

The Mayor’s 20 per cent profit benchmark

The “Three Dragons” model, provided by the mayor for calculating viability, sets a default profit level of 20 per cent on new developments. However, is it appropriate for the mayor to have such a benchmark in this widely used model? And more importantly, what is an “appropriate” profit benchmark for developments anyway?

Land issues

The price of land is a key issue affecting viability. The flexibility with which affordable housing requirements are applied may have contributed to skyrocketing land values: John Wacher of the London Borough of Islington told us that “almost by definition, the developer that gains the site is the one that has assumed the lowest level of policy compliance with the development plan”. From a developers’ perspective, it is claimed that the easy sites have already been snapped up and the land currently being developed is now much more expensive to build out.

There are also issues about the methodology used to value land. Most developers opt to use “market value” – which generally means that a developer will make the most attractive offer for the land, often based on the expectation of luxury housing with little or no affordable homes. A more appropriate approach might be “existing land use value plus”, which is based on the current use of the land in addition to an increase in value, to provide an incentive to sell the land.

Developing the right skills with limited budgets

London boroughs need highly skilled staff to be able to negotiate effectively with developers. Councils are often outnumbered and out-skilled by developers who use their deep pockets to hire experts.

John Wacher highlighted excellent work boroughs are doing together to improve their skills, but with pressures on council budgets, the recruitment and training environment is challenging.
But how do we solve these problems? Guests and community groups who have developed real expertise in this area presented us with some ideas – from making viability agreements more transparent, lowering the profit benchmark, and providing better information sharing and training of staff.

We also heard that the mayor’s own developments on public land holdings offer a real opportunity to show leadership.

The Committee will be exploring whether these ideas will work over the next weeks – but if you have any ideas of your own, please do email us on We would especially like your ideas on how to develop a more holistic approach to viability, with a wider context of wellbeing and a more equitable approach to sharing value.

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Event: Building for need not greed – who are the house builders of the future?

The volume house builders, six of whom account for over half of all new residential units built in London, are not the solution to London’s housing crisis. Whilst they have an important role to play, it is essential that smaller developers come forward, particularly to work on trickier, in-fill sites.

I am chairing a debate tonight at the Architecture Association to look at the role small developers can play in solving the housing crisis, and at how development at this scale offers the opportunity for a more nuanced approach that can result in better quality housing that meets the needs of the local community.

The event is 6pm tonight in the Lecture Hall at the Architecture Association School, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES.

The 90min discussion will be based around the principles of Roger Zogolovitch’s book “Shouldn’t We All Be Developers”, looking at an alternative to the volume house builder model of development, focusing on building on gap sites in cities and investing for long-term rather than building on Green Belt and selling land ownerships as house builders do. This will be an opportunity for the other panellists to respond to Roger’s arguments and support, or not, the case for the independent developer.

Shouldnt we all be developers

Roger Zogolovitch is an architect and developer and founder of Solidspace, independent developers working exclusively on ‘gap sites’ in Central London. Inside each Solidspace home is an open plan split-level form that provides space to eat, live and work and gives a greater sense of spaciousness. Each project pursues a consistent approach to a sculptural form of development, modelling volumes internally and externally to suit occupier and the city with imagination and equality.

Marc Vlessing is a founder Director and CEO of Pocket, London’s first private developer that focuses exclusively on delivering intermediate housing for the starter market. Pocket’s award winning housing requires no grant, is secured as affordable in perpetuity and sold outright to people on low to moderate incomes – see:

Finn Williams is an architect-turned-planner based in London. Finn is Regeneration Area Manager at the Greater London Authority, and the founder of public sector planning thinktank NOVUS and independent research platform Common Office. He is currently developing a not-for-profit agency to place entrepreneurial designers in local authority planning departments. twitter: @commonoffice


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Even more fire engines face Boris axe

Proposals from the Fire Brigade Commissioner to scrap 13 London Fire Engines faced fierce opposition this week when they were debated at a Resources Committee meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). At the meeting, it was revealed that despite fully costed alternatives which would protect front line services, the Commissioner was proposing cuts.

At the meeting LFEPA members received proposals from the Commissioner which included scrapping 13 more fire engines from London’s fleet. The proposals are part of the Fire Brigade’s plans to deal with the £13.2 million Mayor Boris Johnson cut from its budget.

In preparation for any decision to axe the 13 fire engines the Fire Brigade has prepared two lists of stations from which the 13 fire engines could be taken. 13 engines have already been temporarily withdrawn from service but the Fire Brigade has yet to confirm whether these would be the same 13 which will eventually be axed if the cuts go ahead and have also created a list identifying the optimum stations from which to axe the engines. The final decision on the cuts will be taken in December with the Mayor having the final say.


Alternative proposals put forward by Labour Chair of the Fire Authority’s Resources Committee Andrew Dismore AM would see the 13 fire engines returned to their base stations along with a range of back office efficiencies and further re-prioritisations to meet the budget gap. The proposals also include extending alternate crewing arrangements for some of the special appliances which are called out far less frequently than regular fire engines.

The Mayor has already axed 14 fire engines and closed 10 London fire stations, the predictable result was that the time it takes fire engines to reach incidents increased.

There is little doubt that the Mayor’s plan to axe another 13 fire engines could have dire consequences for Londoners and would put lives at risk.

With Boris’ pledge to protect the frontline already in tatters, the fear is that he will have no problem breaking it further to axe yet more vital resources.

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TfL wasting £1.5m a month on staff to run the non-existent night tube

Boris Johnson decided to announce the night tube without any real plan for delivering it. Already pushed back with signficant delays, it has been revealed today that TfL is already spending £1.5m a month on staff to run the non-existent night tube.

This is an outrageous waste of money, it’s farcical that whilst ticket office staff are being asked to consider voluntary redundancy, TfL have chosen to employ additional people to deliver a service that doesn’t even exist.

We’re seeing a huge amount of money going down the drain, money that should be going towards delivering the projects Londoners actually need, such as boosting the capacity of our overcrowded tubes, trains and buses.

This latest farce shows that Boris Johnson’s decision to announce the Night Tube, without any real plan for how he would deliver it, was completely ill-judged. We need a Mayor who can crack on with getting the Night Tube up and running. Instead we’ve got Boris Johnson who’s content to sit back and accept millions of pounds being wasted before a single night tube train has even left the station.

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Bromley Labour Gala Dinner

Cracking good dinner to support the Bromley Labour Party this past Saturday.

With Roisin Bennett, me, Charlie Faulkner, Richard Williams, and Vanessa Allen at the Bromley Gala Dinner

With Roisin Bennett, me, Charlie Faulkner, Richard Williams, and Vanessa Allen at the Bromley Gala Dinner

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Please Boris, vote against the Housing and Planning Bill

After new analysis found that the Bill could force London councils to sell off as many as 10,500 affordable homes every year with much of the money being used to fund new homes in other parts of the country, I am calling on the Mayor to vote against the Housing and Planning Bill when it returns to Parliament.

Provisions set out in the legislation, which was published earlier this month, include plans to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants. The scheme would be funded by forcing councils to sell ‘higher value’ housing, with evidence from the Greater London Authority (GLA) suggesting that as many as 10,500 affordable homes in the capital could be sold each year as a result. The money made from selling these homes will go to central Government, not local councils, meaning much of the money raised in the capital could be spent elsewhere given London’s greater number of ‘high value’ homes.

In May, Mayor Boris Johnson set out four conditions which needed to be met if the policy was to work in the capital:

    • The money raised from council housing sales in London must be spent in London
    • The policy must preserve London’s mixed communities
    • It must deliver more housing overall
    • It must deliver more affordable housing overall

However, the Government’s decision not to include measures which would ensure sums raised in London are retained in the capital means that the current plans fall well short of the Mayor’s ‘red lines’. Additionally, no provision is included in the Bill to guarantee the delivery of more housing and additional affordable housing, whilst concerns abound that the failure to replace social housing in equal numbers will erode London’s traditional mixed communities.

Boris has laid down his red lines. I urge him not to cross them, and to oppose this devastating legislation.

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