Emma Best is a London wide London Assembly Member and a councillor in Waltham Forest.
In an opinion piece for the Metro in May, the Mayor stated that ‘to have a place to live should be a basic right for every Londoner’.
I don’t disagree with him, but this statement must be embellished to create genuine equality and opportunity in our Capital.
It is not simply enough that Londoners have somewhere to live; they must have somewhere to thrive. We have seen far too many people pushed into overcrowded living situations, in rabbit-hutch developments, to not put quality on a par with quantity when we talk about addressing London’s housing crisis.
Under the previous Mayor things were different. Boris Johnson set strict conditions for living standards in his London Plan and set a housing investment target for much needed family homes. However, much like with most good ideas that Sadiq Khan came across when he took the helm at City Hall, he did away with those pretty quickly.
Removing the target for family housing in particular has been a failure, with the proportion of Greater London Authority-funded homes that have three bedrooms or more falling from 23 per cent in 2017/18 to 15 per cent in 2021/22. Need for larger properties, however, has only increased.
Khan’s approach to housing has been to stack up dense unit numbers on small sites to increase quantity of delivery. This has not only affected the quality and mix of homes but due to the large scale nature of these projects many have be started, but very often due to cost, scale and viability, they remain incomplete. This somewhat explains why the current Mayor has only managed to complete 45,000 homes in the past six years (average 7,500 homes per year), compared with 94,000 in eight years under Boris Johnson (average 11,750 per year).
The Government is certainly doing its part and in 2016 handed the Mayor £4.82bn to build 116,000 affordable homes, but he is still not delivering. After six years, more than 25,000 (over 20 per cent) of those homes have still not been started, with the project deadline of March 2023 looming.
To make matters worse, Khan has been given a further £4 billion to fund 35,000 homes in a 2021-26 programme. He hasn’t even started one. An unprecedented £8.8bn sum (this must be that levelling-down of London he speaks of) which he isn’t spending, yet unsurprisingly he still asks for more money while sitting on a fund totalling the equivalent budget of the Metropolitan Police Service.
Even his own review earlier this year, conducted by Lord Kerslake, found there was poor delivery of homes on GLA public land in the past six years. It strikes me that if we could get moderate and appropriate development of good quality affordable homes right, we wouldn’t be stuck in a position looking at glaringly low delivery. A conundrum that only leads to even more reliance on large-scale inappropriate development to fill the gaps.
This short-sighted vision is not only causing development to stall but also means the Mayor is building homes no one wants to live-in. Accessible units without adequate car-parking, larger properties with no facilities for children – building these units does not answer the questions that the housing crisis in London poses.
This short piece is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even covered his re-imagining of the Mayoral call-in process which has allowed him to approve plans for 20 tower block developments against the wishes of local communities and in many cases, local authority planning committees. Or his TfL building programme of proposals for inappropriate and unviable schemes on station car parks which has meant nearly every one of those schemes has failed to get approval.
The result is this. More Londoners should have good quality homes today where they can thrive. But the Mayor has let our Capital down at every turn by pursuing the wrong schemes, building poor quality housing, and lending his weight to schemes that fail to get off the ground or stall for years.
It is time to build the quality homes London needs. Give up the tower block agenda and embark on a diverse programme of affordable house-building to help Londoners thrive.