At the heart of the Mayor’s London Housing Strategy is the sale of public land to private property developers. This is a strategy the Tory government is already vigorously pursuing. Under Boris’s watch, Transport for London (TfL) was busy selling off land. The current Mayor’s plan is to ratchet up the action. £3.5bn central government money, secured in November last year, will, if necessary using compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), benefit private property developers, including the housing associations (HAs) deregulated and corporatized by the 2016 Housing and Planning Act.
The public land earmarked for sale belongs to TfL (what it has left), the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade, the NHS, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, Network Rail and of course local authorities. The land will be sold at a discount in a doomed attempt to entice developers to deliver a significant proportion of below market homes. And the plan is to work with government to speed up and cost down CPO procedures.
Selling off public land – a finite resource – cheaply to private developers, including commercial HAs, will not – cannot – solve London’s housing crisis. It maintains a profit driven market policy that has produced a glut of high price property for investment, and a dearth of homes for ordinary people. Once that public asset is sold at a discount it will be costly to ever claw it back. The New Economics Foundation has said: “As more [public] land is sold, there is less opportunity to reverse the mistakes that have been made, and for the government – [i.e. a Labour government] – to genuinely get back into the business of building houses.”
Tory planning laws invite property developers to circumvent planning policy on ‘affordable’ housing quotas. Reneging on ‘affordable’ homes promises is standard. Kahn knows this. His target of 90,000 ‘affordable’ homes, i.e. a mere 17,500 socially rented homes, on site by 2021 (50% of the total number of new homes) is an unachievable promise. The Ilford regeneration scheme with Sainsbury’s as the developer, cited as a pilot in The London Housing Strategy, has spectacularly failed, with just 4% of ‘affordable’ homes and that doesn’t mean socially rented. Southwark council’s regeneration scheme in ‘partnership’ with Notting Hill Housing, one of the UK’s most commercial HAs, when completed will have lost over 9,000 socially rented homes.
Evidence from the US cited by Architects for Social Housing found that ‘densifying’ (a word liberally used in The London Housing Strategy) aka building more urban homes for sale (which in London often means buy to let and/or invest) does not drive the cost of housing down. And of course there exists unused private land. Wimpey, Barratt and the Berkeley Group, 3 of the 4 biggest property developers in the country and 3 of Khan’s 13 property development partners, are landbanking to increase land values. Of unused properties, in London there are 200,000 empty private homes; of HA homes, in K&C 177 are empty, in Lambeth 372, in Tower Hamlets 313.
We will only be able to build homes for social rent if we hang onto public land. Let’s promote a housing strategy that brings hoarded private land and property, including HA properties, into use and stop stripping public assets for private gain.
Mayor’s Housing Strategy won’t solve London’s housing crisis part 2 coming up soon