Steve O’Connell, Planning spokesman for the London Assembly Conservatives
The best way to tackle rising house prices and rents in London is to find new ways to increase the supply of homes. My new report, Gap In The Market, does just that, with a plan to deliver 10,000 new homes in 10 years – on small disused spaces on public land, such as old laundries, garages and store sheds.
We already know that this approach can work. Twelve years ago, the London Borough of Wandsworth pioneered a ‘hidden homes’ scheme, transforming empty sites into new homes and often dealing with hotspots of crime and anti-social behaviour in the process. However, whilst some boroughs are now starting their own infill development schemes, it is yet to be vigorously explored in all areas of London.
My report has identified over 4,500 redundant spaces on housing blocks and estates, in just 13 London boroughs. But this is just scratching the surface. That is why I am calling for all London boroughs, if they have not done so already, to compile a full survey and delivery plan for building new homes on infill sites. The Mayor of London, through his planning and housing powers, can also help to monitor and scrutinise these plans.
In addition, these smaller plots of land present an ideal opportunity to support small developers and self-builders, who often lose out to the larger house builders. Not only would this help to broaden the housing market and improve consumer choice, it would also help people to build their own homes, such as young professionals and first time buyers who often struggle with hefty deposits. Research suggests that it is possible to build a well-insulated, energy efficient home on a shoestring for less than £50,000.
Self-build is a sector that the Government has been keen to see expand. Currently around 10 per cent of homes across the UK are self-built, compared to 30 per cent in the Netherlands, 60 per cent in Germany and 80 per cent in Austria. One of the main obstacles to this expansion, apart from finance and regulation, is a lack of available land. Public sector land is often made available for development on a large scale – conditions which typically favour larger developers with the necessary resources and logistical capacity. However, by definition, infill sites are smaller areas of land, and many of these areas could be suitable for self-builders and other smaller players in the housing market.
So, as part of this comprehensive approach to transforming disused spaces into new homes, I am calling for some of these sites to be specifically identified and marketed to self-builders, with a pilot project for at least 100 of these types of homes, supported by the Mayor of London.
There is no magic bullet to solving London’s housing crisis – only lots of smaller solutions. My report offers the chance to build a considerable number of new homes, simply by intensifying the housing blocks and estates which already exist. These are homes that can be delivered on brownfield land, without building high rise or on greenfield sites. It presents an opportunity that we cannot afford to pass up. We have an action plan, so let’s get started!