21 November 2017
Matthew Good, Planning Director at WYG, comments on the mayor of London's latest plan to address the city's housing crisis.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently announced that London needed to deliver 66,000 new homes every year and that 65 percent of these homes needed to be affordable. It is, however, questionable whether that figure goes far enough.
The current London Plan seeks to deliver at least 42,000 new homes per year based upon supply, with actual need suggested to be around 49,000 per annum. Whichever figure is used, 66,000 represents a significant increase. However, the recent Government consultation on a standard methodology for identifying housing needs suggests that at least 72,000 new homes are required within London each year over the next 10 years.
The 66,000 figure has been developed through a new Strategic Housing Market Assessment. This will be a key document supporting the development of the new London Plan, anticipated to be published for consultation later this month. Meeting this requirement, or the higher 72,000 figure, will need a step change in housing delivery across the capital. In recent years, London has struggled to meet even half of this scale of delivery. A continuation of this level of delivery will do little to alleviate the housing crisis, and may hamper future prospects for economic growth.
Londoners have suffered from years of undersupply, and whilst the new target is ambitious in comparison to recent delivery, it is unlikely, on its own, to make a significant impact upon affordability within the capital. In response, the mayor suggests that 65 percent of the target needs to be affordable. This is unlikely to be a realistic proposition across the majority of the conurbation.
Indeed, current levels of affordable housing delivery stand around 38 percent, and the London Plan is expected to set a lower affordable housing target of around 50 percent, which is still very ambitious. Insistence upon such a high requirement could hinder, rather than assist, an increase in housing delivery.
Khan has made reference to the lack sufficient investment in affordable housing from successive Prime Ministers. This, perhaps, suggests that other forms of public investment will be considered to boost affordable housing delivery. This would undoubtedly help raise the level of affordable housing provision, particularly if it sat alongside the current ‘fast-track route’ for applicants proposing 35 percent or more affordable housing.
Simply increasing the targets will not, however, deliver the homes required; a new approach is needed to meet London's needs. The London Plan is expected to shift emphasis for delivery towards family housing in the outer London boroughs. Whilst this will inevitably lead to greater tensions and difficult conversations regarding the future role of the Green Belt, it is part of the solution. WYG deems it necessary to explore other options as well. These could, and should, include a re-evaluation of density policies and the role of neighbouring local authorities.
An increase in density will pose problems in terms of its implementation, not least because it is unlikely there will be any wholesale relaxation of the housing space standards. There is also a significant risk that a continued push towards higher densities will not be palatable to some London Boroughs.
Greater co-operation with ‘less constrained’ authorities would assist in alleviating pressure upon the capital. This would require greater collaboration than currently exists through cross-boundary agreements upon delivery and the provision of investment and infrastructure.