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What we learnt at the Building London Summit 2020
5 February 2020
From a call to deregulate cannabis to a proposal to create a new Housing for London body, the 2020 Building London Summit’s packed agenda saw debate and discussion on a wide range of policy proposals.
Delegates heard from five Mayoral candidates – Siobhan Benita (Liberal Democrat), Shaun Bailey (Conservative), Sian Berry (Green), James Murray MP (Labour, on behalf of Sadiq Khan) and Rory Stewart (independent) – who each set out their visions for the capital before being grilled by Peter Hogg, UK Cities Director at Arcadis, and members of the audience.
While common themes developed throughout the day – the candidates all recognised the scale of London’s housing crisis and the need to drastically boost supply, particularly of affordable homes –interesting differences emerged in their policy prescriptions to tackle the crisis and their broader agendas for London.
For Shaun Bailey, the overwhelming priority was to increase housing supply through working with the private sector and creating Housing for London, a new Mayoral vehicle focused on housing delivery in partnership with local authorities.
Siobhan Benita’s pitch to govern the capital focused on increasing build to rent development using land owned by TfL and a mass adoption of off-site construction to help boost supply.
The pitch from independent candidate Rory Stewart included a drive to sort out the capital’s basics and critiqued a culture of setting unachievable goals which, according to Mr Stewart, has seen London miss its housing targets for 19 of the last 20 years. Mr Stewart said his approach is “less about policy and more about action”, suggesting that as an independent he would be able to navigate the political pressures which can arise in London’s planning system.
Sian Berry focused on the capital’s approach to the climate crisis, calling for a new approach to road pricing and for greater devolution of powers to the Mayor to help London become a carbon neutral city, including the retention of business rates. Ms Berry proposed a People’s Land Commission to identify new sites for housing.
Speaking on behalf of incumbent Sadiq Khan, James Murray set out the Mayor’s record on increase the supply of affordable housing through instigating a fixed percentage of affordable homes on new development and securing investment from Government for London’s largest ever affordable housing programme. Mr Murray also highlighted the Mayor’s blueprint for overhauling London’s private rented sector, including introducing rent control, and a renewed push to eradicate homelessness.
A common theme across Building London was a sense of cautious optimism about the capital’s future, despite the still-uncertain impact of Brexit and the yet-to-be negotiated trade deal with the EU (and the rest of the world). Alexander Jan, Chief Economist at Arup, who delivered a keynote presentation, pointed out that post-Brexit, London has performed better economically than expected, despite taking a hit due to the uncertainty of the last three years. Mr Jan suggested that Crossrail’s delayed opening could yet prove a blessing for the capital, providing an economic shot in the arm next year.
The How I see the future panel struck a similar tone, with panellists from Canary Wharf, Jacobs, Network Homes, OPDC and SEGRO broadly optimistic about future growth in their respective sectors and the opportunities London and the UK could harness should a successful future relationship with the EU be negotiated. The panel’s key asks of the next Mayor included: making use of brownfield sites that happen to be in the Green Belt for homes and industrial space; creating consensus in the capital on the need to build more homes; ensuring that levelling up growth in the UK does not level down growth in London; greater commitment to long term investment; to put politics aside and focus on delivery; and stronger promotion of London as a world city post-Brexit.
In the parallel sessions, passionate debates took place on whether the Green Belt should be reviewed to release land for housing, with Dan Ashcroft, parliamentary researcher for Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh making the case for a review based on the human challenges of the housing crisis, while Andrew Boff AM stressed the success of Green Belt policies in limiting London’s sprawl. Read debate chair Roger Hepher’s write-up of the full session.
James Murray made the case that the private rented sector was in a poor state and that Londoners wanted a change to it now, arguing that incentives should be put in place to support new private rented stock being built and that interim measures would be need to lower rents before the commission had fully established his position. Simon Chatfield, Ecoworld London, argued against the introduction of rent control. If rent control was introduced, Mr Chatfield argued there would be a reduction in the supply of rented homes in the market and would threaten the growth of the build to rent market.
In the high street discussion, panellists agreed that flexibility is needed to keep high streets alive, along with highlighting a need to ensure future high streets are low carbon and centred around human wellbeing. The day also saw the launch of London First’s planning manifesto for high streets and town centres, setting out eight recommendations to support high street and town centre growth, and keep them as experience-driven community hubs that thrive.
Perhaps the most positive panel of the day focused on public-private partnerships to deliver housing, with Cllr Clare Coghill Leader, Waltham Forest, Brendan Sarsfield, CEO, Peabody, Cllr Julian Bell, Leader, Ealing Council, Graeme Craig, Commercial Director, Transport for London and Marcus Bate, Investment Director, Mount Anvil, explaining how partnerships had enabled risk sharing, delivering more homes and better outcomes for London. The speakers all agreed that alignment of values and objectives are essential to positive partnerships.
The 2020 Building London Summit wrapped up with a look at foreign investment in London, with the panel optimistic that fundamentals that have kept London globally competitive would remain. However, infrastructure investment was flagged as a key issue along with greater investment in housing — both are vital to continuing to secure foreign investment. Environmental and community factors are now big emerging issues that foreign investors want to be confident are being addressed in the schemes they invest in.
Huge thanks go to Headline Partner Grosvenor, Conference Partners Arcadis and Arup, Associate Partners Barratt London, Bosch, Carney Sweeney, Jacobs, Lendlease and Mount Anvil, and Support Partners Ace and the London Property Alliance for supporting the Building London Summit 2020.
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