The end of the First World War saw huge demand for council housing throughout Britain, as hundreds of thousands of servicemen were demobilised and promised ‘homes fit for heroes’ by the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.
The country rose to the challenge. In 1919, Parliament passed the ‘Addison Act’ (named after its author, the Minister for Health and Shoreditch MP Christopher Addison), giving local authorities the powers and resources to build the housing their communities needed. The objective was to deliver 500,000 new homes in just three years.
In my own borough of Barking & Dagenham, the Becontree Estate forms part of our proud history of providing the homes that Londoners need and, as we mark the centenary of the Addison Act, we urgently need to recapture that sense of determination and ambition in housebuilding.
The scale of London’s housing crisis
London faces a severe and worsening homelessness crisis. There are currently 54,000 homeless London households living in temporary accommodation – 70% of the national total. This figure includes 87,000 children and, while in the past we may have associated homelessness with unemployment, 55% of those households are in work. In total, a staggering quarter of a million Londoners are on housing registers with waiting times of up to 25 years.
The capital requires over66,000 new homes to be built each year if we are to meet demand. The last time we achieved that level was in the 1960s and 70s, led by boroughs free of central government restrictions.
London boroughs have to be properly empowered again. The lifting of the HRA borrowing cap, which London Councils had long called for, is a welcome step forward that will help boroughs invest in new housing. But we still face immense challenges.
The challenge of Right to Buy
In 2016/17, 3,138 homes were sold by London boroughs under Right to Buy and only 1,445 were replaced. Turning again to my home borough, in Barking & Dagenham we know more than most about the devastating impact of the scheme – we’ve lost 48,000 council homes since the 1980s and we’ve only managed to build 674 to replace them.
Right to Buy’s rules are stacked against councils – only 30% of receipts can be used towards the cost of a replacement home, all receipts must be spent within three years, and failure to do so incurs a 3% interest charge. Central government must stop meddling and instead give us complete local flexibility over how Right to Buy receipts can be used to deliver affordable homes.
Brexit brings funding instability
Brexit is another concern. The European Investment Bank has put £5.5bn into social housing across the UK, making the bank the biggest investor in the sector. Leaving the EU undermines our access to this funding. Local authorities, developers, and housing associations now need to lobby central government for a suitable replacement that has less red tape and more local input.
In unpredictable times, working together is essential for meeting our shared housebuilding ambitions. We recognise the huge benefits these partnerships can bring to Londoners: well-designed homes with a range of affordable tenures that are supported by local communities.
I want to make 2019 a year of channelling the spirit of the Addison Act – of pushing for policy reform and securing investment. Only by working together can we accelerate delivery and build the homes Londoners need.
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