London is in desperate need of new homes. Demand is increasing rapidly and the supply of housing needs to catch up. And we know that London's population is rising fast and due to reach 9 million by 2020.
The roots of this chronic housing shortage go back to the days of Labour's Ken Livingstone, where a rigid target was set for every development to comprise of 50% affordable housing. This was, of course, self-defeating. It often led to fewer homes being constructed, or the creation of high density developments with rabbit hutch flats being a key feature. Mayor Boris Johnson has relaxed the targets, and has set out new guidelines in regard to the size of rooms, reminiscent of the generous 'Parker Morris Standard' room sizes that we saw in previous years.
However there are still many – much needed – proposed applications for new homes that have yet to be realised. At present, there are 180,000 developments that are currently stalled in the city – many of which are relics from the Livingstone era. They were given planning permission many years ago, on the condition that they met this restrictive target for affordable housing. But now the schemes are stuck, strangled by the requirements places upon them and taking away the resources needed to build them. This has so far prevented the development of hundreds of new homes and leaving eyesores in their town centres.
As a member of the London Assembly for Croydon, I have experienced this problem first-hand with targets for affordable housing affecting the ability of local councils and developers to realise new homes. One example has been the IYLO development in our town centre, a key housing scheme for 183 new homes, but with a requirement to provide £2.9 million towards affordable housing. This scheme was stalled for many years, but we have recently managed to work with the developer to restructure the previous affordable housing requirements of a key housing scheme, so that the new homes can now be delivered. So by asking for a little bit less, we can actually achieve much more.
I am in no way asking for a removal of the affordable housing requirement. I am particularly keen to see the rise of part buy/part rent schemes for first time buyers, but with London's growing population, we need to make sure that developers with increasingly thin margins can complete the new homes that London requires. Boroughs must not repeat the mistakes of the past by squeezing developers too hard, otherwise we risk choking off this vital supply of new housing.
What is true for London will be true elsewhere in the UK, and the government, housing associations and local councils need to work together to have a realistic plan for moving the stalled house building industry forward.