Boris Johnson knows land banking is a problem in London. In fact, he told me it’s “pernicious”. That’s why I was glad his Vision 2020 calls for a “use it or lose it planning permission”. I was also glad he’s promised to back this up with compulsory purchase orders:
“I am all in favour of using the CPO powers, I have said that. In the end we have to respect property rights in this country to a certain degree. We do not live in a Stalinist system… private property is what it is. I cannot take it off people willy-nilly. This is not Zimbabwe, or whatever. Where there are clear cases of land banking, where people could go ahead with developments it would be massively to the benefit of this city… All those things need to happen and they need to happen fast. That is why I said what I have said about CPO powers.”
Imagine my surprise then, when the exact same Mayor wrote in September that the exact same policies amount to Mugabe-style expropriations of land:
“You won’t get developers risking their cash to build, if they are told they are vulnerable to Mugabe-style expropriations.”
What’s changed? What happened between May – when the Mayor made the case that CPO is a valuable tool which can be used without London turning into Zimbabwe – and September – when he compared anyone who proposes to use those powers as that country’s dictator?
What happened is that Ed Miliband promised to introduce those very same policies at Labour party conference. The Tory press called it Stalinist, and Boris pandered to them.
The only problem is that this isn’t a matter to be determined by petty political games. London has a real housing crisis – we need solutions, not policy by press release.
I challenged the Mayor on this at this morning’s Mayors Question Time. You can watch the webcast here.