Boris’ Lack of Action on Housing in Focus as he Attempts to Bury Housing Taskforce Report

The Mayor’s record of broken promises and inaction on affordable housing is again in focus as he attempts to bury the report of the London Housing Taskforce.

The Taskforce, initiated by the Mayor in October, has recommended the creation of a Housing and Development Company to raise millions of pounds in funding and to increase the supply of affordable housing by releasing land owned by the GLA, and therefore controlled by the Mayor.

The Mayor announced such an initiative two years ago before scrapping it last month. He will now bring all the functions in house where it will be far less able to attract investment.

With over £350k spent in developing the company – £294k of which on expensive consultants – and with no homes started or completed through it, this surely symbolises much of this Mayor’s track record: inaction, broken promises and waste.

The London Housing Taskforce, a specialist group, was set up following the Government’s announcement of massive spending cuts. The brief was set very early on:

“The Spending Review has set tough limits on public sector spending which means creative thinking and new delivery models will be needed to deliver on London’s housing ambitions.

The Taskforce will examine the supply of affordable housing, including how public land holdings can attract institutional investment. In addition, the panel will explore ways to secure private investment in regeneration and the house building programme.”

The Taskforce’s report was completed on 31 March. On 27 May – following many postponed release deadlines – the Mayor finally published the report without any of the usual fanfare.

The London Housing Company would have been a great initiative.

Why? Because under the stewardship of the previous Mayor, the London Development Agency bought up a significant amount of old industrial land for redevelopment. The extent of the land acquisition was spelt out in Boris Johnson’s own housing manifesto:

“The LDA owns 318 hectare of surplus land suitable for residential development, which they estimate would provide 32,000 new homes.”

Recognising the value of this land bank, Inside Housing reported a few months after Boris’s election that the new Mayor intended to:

“Release London Development Agency and Transport for London land for housing development, to reduce upfront costs for developers.”

The Mayor said:

“The housing market is frozen… there is a tundra, a permafrost at the moment caused by the credit crunch, and it’s our job to jackhammer through it.”

Good words, but the words have not been met with action.

This is the man who had the biggest land bank and housing budget (£5bn to use between 2008 and 2011) ever at the disposal of a London Mayor.

The lack of movement over the Housing Company is symptomatic of how this Mayor has failed to get to grips with the housing crisis.

It is over two years since Boris and his team said they were creating a London Housing Company.

In April 2009 his Housing Adviser, Richard Blakeway, said:

“We are working very closely with the [London Development Agency] and London Councils to see if we can set up some mechanism to bring land forward through a special purpose vehicle across London… It’s something people have wanted to do for a long time.”

But two procurement processes later, he said in November:

“We now intend reviewing the preferred model through the Housing Investment Task Force together with any other suggestions that may arise from the Task Force on how best to work with the private sector. This will allow us to develop and release a well thought out initiative that appropriately responds to the current economic climate we are faced with.”

So why has he scrapped the Housing Company when the Taskforce unequivocally supported his policy? Why does he think doing it in house is better?

Even the unquestionably loyal Tories on the London Assembly couldn’t hide their dissatisfaction with the Mayor. Tory Steve O’Connell AM said:

“The fact of the matter is that in Croydon we have proven that by using municipal assets we can indeed build very good civic and public amenities at absolutely nil cost to the taxpayer. So whilst I agree that events have moved on… it would be right to continue to have the possibility in your kit bag of looking at an asset-backed vehicle.”

And who can blame them for their disappointment.

Nicky Gavron AM is the Labour Group Spokesperson for Planning and Housing on the London Assembly
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About nickygavron

Former Deputy Mayor for London, London Assembly Member, Chair of Planning Committee, and Labour Spokesperson for Planning
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