Cllr Kevin Davis is the Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
We are in the grip of an housing crisis. Regardless of how much we might want to wish it away, because it is a difficult problem, the reality is that more and more people are chasing fewer homes whether that is to rent or to buy. This is not a new problem – but as the party that has had at its core since the 1920s a “property owning democracy”, we need to take action.
To tackle it needs brave politicians who are willing to challenge the orthodoxy that building homes is unpopular and face up to the political realities for the Conservative Party if we do not. The party faces a serious problem because that generation of young people we have singularly failed to build homes for in the past twenty years are the Conservative voters of the future. These could be the next Conservative home owning democracy like those who during the period from the ’60s through to the ’90s looked to the Conservative Party to provide them with a home they could buy – and then rewarded us with their electoral support. Those now in the 20-40 age group have not been well served by us and whilst it is not all the fault of our party in the period of seven years since Labour lost power we have clearly not done enough to build homes for them: and build them, importantly, in the places they want to live – London and the south east. Our party needs to do something or we face an existential crisis, as great as any in the past one hundred and fifty years, that could threaten our survival.
But in tackling this challenge it would clearly be a mistake to adopt policies that seek to destroy the very communities you are trying to convince of the need for housing.
Sadiq Khan, as a teaser for the budget and a preview of his London Plan later this year, has published what he considers to be the housing targets for London. They mark a dramatic break with the past for where he foresees a somewhat moderate four per cent growth in housing in the centre of London, he believes that the suburbs can support a 97 per cent overall increase in housing targets. This is a big change in the previously even spread of housing targets between inner and outer London. Of course, there are outer London boroughs with hectares of post-industrial land that are being developed but that type of land is not available in many parts of London, unless you do what few Londoners want and start taking the Green Belt. For the majority of outer London boroughs these proposals would see an increase in well over 100 per cent in the targets for house building. Take my own borough of Kingston. In about three and a half years we have permitted just over 3,000 new homes, but to meet the mayor’s new target for building that three year total for permissions would need to be delivered in just six months. Targets are obviously just targets but there are now real threats from central Government towards local councils who fail to meet the expectations in these types of targets.
The real danger for outer London is how the mayor envisages us hitting his target and this creates a real dilemma for outer London. With the well known large sites in our boroughs we can all agree on the numbers of homes we can expect to see built. But the Mayor has his eye on ‘small sites’. His expectation is that we will knock down our semi-detached and detached homes and replace each house with 2.2 more homes, effectively doubling the density of the suburbs. Within ten years we could see the destruction of the post war suburbs that contribute to the quality of life of ordinary Londoners, many of whom started life in the city centre and moved out to our suburban homes to raise families or live closer to the green belt. In many senses suburban homes are a rite of passage for urban dwellers.
I support the building of many new homes. I do so because I want us in Kingston to shape that growth but I also want us to build more homes because my kids and other young people need them. And also because providing housing strikes at the very existence of the Conservative party. Destroying the best of what we have is not the way to solve the housing crisis and will not solve the real problem at the heart of house building in London; affordability and the price of land.