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The Mayor’s Housing strategy – admirably ambitious but achievable?

John Dickie, Director of Strategy and Policy, London First

Our annual housing lunch at MIPIM saw many attendees in a reflective mood. The new London Plan has the ambitious target of roughly doubling London’s new homes to 65,000: but does it have the tools to do the job?

James Murray, Deputy Mayor for Housing and his colleague Simon Powell made the case for the Plan and associated housing strategy. James talked about the importance of starting from the perspective that 65,000 homes could be built in London, and could be built without taking green belt land. This focused the minds of all concerned on the difficult issues; building more homes well on individual sites and getting more small sites into development. James ran through the GLAs plans emphasising the new focus on intervening in the land market to get sites into development more quickly.

But do the GLA’s various initiatives amount to the step-change that London needs to see 65,000 new homes each year? Members were by and large sceptical. The plan is based on 24,500 being built on small sites each year; small sites over which the Mayor has no powers and where boroughs, particularly in outer London, are often reluctant. There are no sanctions on boroughs which fail to meet their target. And changes to rules around funding of estate regeneration, in particular the requirement to ballot, are likely to slow progress here.

Throw in the uncertainties of Brexit and the plan’s commendable ambitions around social housing (which many fear might see landowners sit on their hands in the hope of future policy changes) and the challenges are substantial.

But they must be met. There is no single greater threat to London’s continued competitiveness than the high cost of housing. This is why London First has called on the Mayor to be bold in getting land into development, and to be more flexible in the London Plan — including over the green belt. And, of course the Mayor can’t do it alone. London needs more public investment into housing – public money for public goods. In the words of one attendee- the boroughs need to show that they are open for business; and where they are not, the Mayor needs the powers to intervene.

And the private sector needs to do its bit too, particularly around equipping Londoners with the skills to build the homes we need.

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