Cross party consensus on tackling London’s housing crisis

Congratulations to Quatro for putting on an excellent debate on ‘Tackling London’s Housing Crisis’ (12th November), and to some really insightful contributions from Cllr Ravi Govindia (Leader of Wandsworth Council), Sir Steve Bullock (Mayor of Lewisham) and Cllr Stephen Knight (GLA and Richmond Council).

Apart from giving credence to the old adage ‘never mix liberal democrats with property developers and alcohol’ (best not ask), the evening provided cross-party clarity on the need for action in the Capital.  All speakers acknowledged that difficult decisions need to be taken, and perhaps surprisingly, all recognised that if we are to return to anything like pre-World War II delivery rates, the Green Belt cannot be viewed as sacrosanct. Cllr Govindia staunchly defended the right for foreign investment in London property – and foreign residential ownership, whereas Sir Steve Bullock was anxious to move the focus away from home ownership to renting, particularly PRS. Cllr Knight felt that the priority was on addressing London’s acute need for affordable housing. 

So where does the debate take us? I would suggest it takes developers into town halls. Difficult decisions do need to be taken, and whilst the London Plan (and borough local plans/LDF’s need to be respected and considered, the opportunity exists for developers with landholdings – and ambition – to move the agenda on – and in the short term.  The GLA has an important role in providing leadership, guidance and pragmatism; what price protecting a worn-out shed site when we need to build 50,000 homes a year? (not my figures – I was saying 35,000 last week, but those of the assembled politicians).

Those with the vision are likely to reap their own rewards…

Trying to save the Golden Goose …

I spoke yesterday evening at the Martin Arnold LLP conference: ‘Community Infrastructure Levy – Or How to Kill the Golden Goose!’


Perhaps inevitably, the first question was ‘what is the Golden Goose?’

Well as I went on to explain, to my mind, the bird that must keep on laying is the British property industry underpinning the economic recovery, and key among that is building homes in London and the South East – because that’s where most of the quality jobs are.

So why does CIL pose a risk? Well, the problem with CIL is that it’s an arbitrary tool that prioritises infrastructure payments above all else. So as a minimum, affordable housing suffers, and in many instances, development as a whole is put at risk.

There are ways to mitigate it, and a positive that has emerged from CIL (and the wider recognition of the fact that viability as an argument is now here to stay in planning), is that developers are entitled to make a profit – at least 20%.

But developers will be the ones that will carry the blame for private homes being expensive (CIL is nothing more than a land tax that goes straight to the bottom line), and there being no affordable accommodation within a scheme.

The demise of the Golden Goose may have been exaggerated by the title of the conference, but I don’t like the look of it’s flying feathers…


Villagers in Freak Concrete Flood Incident…

More concrete Vicar?

I see that the Sunday Times has taken another emotive pop at developers (“Builders use loophole to flood villages with concrete”, ST 3/11/13). They are always excellent headings, but not necessarily accurate (in all senses).

Apparently, ‘villages in beauty spots are under attack from property speculators’.  I was envisaging a Jam and Jerusalem meets Rourkes Drift occurrence, with a baying mob of rabid developers flying over hedgerows and kissing gates armed with spears and bows and arrows.  The local vicar barricading the entrance to the church, whilst the PTA of the local primary school catapult Rocky Road and scones at the passing infidels.  It would make a great eight-part daytime drama.  Alan Rickman as Thorgan Smeltz (property baron).  Joanna Lumley as Petuna Golightly (renowned local watercolour artist).

In reality, a few people are upset that developers have had the temerity to put their heads up above the parapet and have promoted residential schemes where local authorities have not got round to adopting an up to date development plan.  It’s hardly incendiary, and certainly not deserving of accusations of flooding of, if not quite biblical, but man-made proportions.

So why haven’t these councils adopted a development plan? No doubt pressure on resources, the impact of changes to the planning system and speed of hand have played a part.  It may also be that officers and councillors know that if they lead on a plan, they will have to acknowledge the need for housing in the very areas that developers are considering.  Who wants that kind of flack?

This is the carrot and stick of Localism.  If local communities are not engaged, and compelled to see the value of leading on their own growth strategies, developers will fill the void.  You can hardly blame developers for that; they are in business, and it’s not as if we don’t need the blessed houses.  But local communities lose out, and so do developers, as there is less control for the former, and adversarial applications are always more expensive; there is no certainty that utility companies in particular will acknowledge their responsibility to accommodate growth (which comes with a development plan), and planning appeals cost a lot of money.

I’m looking forward to next week’s follow-up article: “Developers Steal Cornwall”.