Housing is central to any vision for the future of London. While the publication last month of the Mayor’s long awaited 2020 Vision gave the appearance of tackling London’s housing crisis, how does it stand up to scrutiny? Is the Mayor’s target ambitious enough? And who are these homes for?
Private sector rents rose by 9% last year and 12% the year before, affordable housing delivery in London has dropped off a cliff under the stewardship of the current incumbents at City Hall and Whitehall, and home ownership is simply more unaffordable by the day for even middle income households. These are all, to varying degrees, a consequence of London chronic housing shortage, now made acute by London’s population growth.
When the 2011 Census figures were published it showed a population more than 400,000 above the figure forecast. In fact, London’s population was found to be much closer to what had been forecast for 2021. By 2020, it is now believed that London’s population will be 9 million, up from 8.3 million today.
In response, the Mayor’s ‘Vision’ claims that we need to build 40,000 new homes per year in London over the next decade. 40,000 homes a year was the figure that all the experts put forward three years ago during the public examination of the Mayor’s Replacement London Plan. The consensus then was that the Mayor’s target at 32,210 per year was too low and this was before the Census figures were published!
Once again we’re hearing the same thing, with experts now saying – the target of 40,000 homes per year is way too low.
Property consultants Knight Frank recently argued that we need more than 52,000 new homes every year for a decade just to keep pace with the projected growth in households.
Experts at July’s London Assembly Planning Committee noted that in reality you would need to build at least 60,000 homes every year. This figure would take into account the backlog of housing need created by under-delivery, overcrowding, and the scandal of buy-to-leave – where homes are used as banks, and left empty.
It’s not only a matter of concern that the Mayors low target is insufficient to tackle London’s existing housing crisis without including future requirements, It is also politically short-sighted
This matters because the Mayor’s ‘Vision 2020’ is clearly designed to frame the case for realising the recommendations of the Finance Commission, and government investment in London for the Spending Review for 2016 onwards.
The danger is that the government will respond with a similar poverty of ambition and not give London the support it needs.
In his Vision Boris Johnson blatantly confirms what isn’t widely known outside of City Hall, but is becoming a growing trend in this mayoralty and in certain boroughs across London – the aim to cut out new build social rented housing, erode what exists, and interpret affordable as only being part-rent part buy for future home owners.
The Mayor’s ‘Vision’ states that:
“The top and the bottom economic groups have traditionally been catered for. The London property market is fine if you are an international tycoon; and a third of central London housing stock is still social housing.”
This statement is not backed by evidence; the overwhelming need in London has been shown to be for social rented housing for those on low incomes.
But how might this vision look on the ground?
Let’s take one, very current, example; the Earls Court Opportunity Area in West London.
It could be a good guide because one way or another, the Mayor is quite a player in this project.
Having created this Opportunity area and inserted it into the replacement London plan in 2009. Last month, exercising his planning functions he waved through the planning applications.
A major part of the land is owned by Transport for London, which he chairs. Last week TfL announced it has agreed – though not formally signed the conditions – to pursue a joint venture on the site, essentially making TfL the joint developer of the Earls Court Opportunity Area.
And the proposed development?
Only 10% are designed to fulfil the Mayor’s aim (as said in his ‘Vision’) of helping the ‘squeezed middle’ into home ownership through part-rent-part-buy.
Of the 6,740 new homes, 6,000 will be market homes – mostly one and two bed and almost certainly luxury. Not one additional new home will be for social or affordable rented housing.
This is the reality of Boris Johnson’s London; where the wealthy are looked after, while the squeezed middle become more squeezed and those on low incomes squeezed out altogether.
An edited version of this article was published on the Guardian Housing Network on Thursday 8 August 2013. It can be found here.