Shifting the buck: why is the Government trying to pin the housing crisis on London?
Last week Michael Gove cut the ribbon on Silly Season, insisting that all forthcoming 18m buildings would require two staircases. In the same speech he said that he wanted architects to emulate Gaudi, notwithstanding the stark difference in density between Barcelona and London.
This is also the same week that the Prime Minister attacked the Mayor of London’s record for housing delivery. You would be forgiven for thinking these inconsistencies should be quite important. However, with a General Election creeping up on the horizon it would seem otherwise.
Who is the best problem-solver of them all?
As the Prime Minister unironically asks the question, “Why would Sadiq Khan do this?” We wonder, why would he say this now? It is hardly controversial to say that London is not building enough of the homes it needs to put a meaningful dent in the affordability crisis. However, despite a rough start, the Mayor has shown progress. There is a definitive increase in the number affordable homes being approved since the Mayor’s first term, even accounting for the difficulties associated with the pandemic.
Essentially, the Prime Minister has sparked a pantomime debate that conveniently shifts the focus away from the Conservative MPs in marginal seats balking at housing targets, to London’s Labour Mayor. This, at least from an internal Conservative perspective, is a far easier debate for the Prime Minister to contest. Sadly, it takes away from the actually meaningful changes that would make it easier for London local government and housebuilders to get on and deliver the homes London needs.
The many layers of the affordability crisis
Spare a thought for the planning authorities in London which are striving to meet the housing challenges over their local plan periods and will be now trying to pick through the details of these latest announcements and how they affect their housing pipeline.
Councillor Darren Rodwell, Executive Member for Regeneration, Housing and Planning on London Councils said, “London boroughs are playing our part – over the last year we started the highest number of new council-built homes since the 1970s.
“But we can’t do it alone. Raising Local Housing Allowance, enabling a broader range of housing to be acquired by councils and improving co-ordination across Government would be game-changing.”
All very reasonable suggestions. Time and again local authorities have asked for greater freedoms to acquire land and deliver new affordable housing. Would it be too much to ask for the government to disentangle the political bent of their policy decisions from the wider debate around housing?
Focusing on sector needs
Perhaps the government’s attack on the Mayor is meant to obscure the modesty of its announcement? £150 million for Brownfield remediation directly to Boroughs’s is helpful but certainly not revolutionary. Relaxing borrowing rules for estate regen is welcome, however as ever the devil will be in the detail.
One cannot help but feel that starting a phoney argument is always an attempt to distract from a more embarrassing subject. Either way, the support offered to deliver more homes in London hasn’t served the wider debate about what the sector actually needs. I wouldn’t count on it but let us hope for a more elevated discussion closer to the GLA and General Election.