Cllr Ravi Govindia is the Leader of Wandsworth Council.
Barely a week goes by in London without a reference to the housing crisis, the translation of which is a failure of Government at all levels and a never-ending blame game about missed targets.
The Mayor of London’s latest annual target of delivering 66,000 homes per year, 50 per cent affordable, threatens to add another instalment in the merry-go-round of inaction and blame between Whitehall, City Hall, and Town Halls. Put simply, 50 per cent of zero is still zero if developers aren’t able or willing to dance to the Mayor’s tune.
I am not prepared to allow a situation where our sons and daughters are priced out of the local market which is why in Wandsworth we are side-stepping this merry-go-round for a direct delivery model. With Government support, it is a model that can finally free the inertia that has dogged the housing market for so long.
That is why we have just announced plans for an £80 million investment, part-primed by our own land and resources, to deliver 1,000 new homes by 2025, 60.5 per cent of which will be affordable for low cost rent or through shared ownership.
Our model is unique in that not only are we using our own land and resources without the need to demolish existing council homes, but we will also own and manage the housing stock to guarantee low service charges and quality management services.
Our plan is called ‘Building Homes for Wandsworth People’ because, as the title suggests, the plan is geared towards meeting the needs of our local community. Our aim is to bring mobility and choice to the market by addressing a range of needs, from helping people on low or average incomes to rent or own a home through to helping older people looking to downsize.
Even the 39.5 per cent of housing that is sold on the open market to help subsidise the affordable element will still be prioritised for people who live or work in our borough.
The plan comes on top of delivering more than 3,500 homes in housing estate regeneration programmes in Roehampton and Clapham Junction, which crucially re-provides all existing council housing for social rent.
Some people have asked why can’t we do more and build more that is affordable. But this needs to be looked at in the context that building 1,000 new homes requires significant investment from our Housing Revenue Account in what is an uncertain market – at a time when our budgets are already under severe pressure.
To put this into context we are already committed to investing more than £100 million over the next three years on improving our existing housing stock which includes installing sprinkler systems in tower blocks over 10-stories high. Neither of these initiatives have the support of Labour opposition.
This is why Government financial support is needed to ensure that our model can be adapted and followed by other local authorities, putting them and their communities in the driving seat when it comes to sustainable development free from what is often a “one-size fits all” planning approach from the Mayor. This will ensure that new homes are built in the right locations, with the right infrastructure, and with the full involvement of local communities.
We have asked the Government to launch a Housing Delivery Agreement which acts to incentivise councils to use their own land and assets in this way, thus reducing risk. Think of it as a direct delivery version of the New Homes Bonus which incentivised new homes through the planning process.
The innovation fund would give local authorities like mine the financial incentive to use our land in creative ways, for example through the acceleration of “Hidden Homes” programmes which maximises land use by transforming empty or derelict areas such as former garages or laundry areas. In Wandsworth more than 250 homes have been built this way in the past ten years with hundreds more on the way.
If we had financial support from the Treasury I know that we can and would do more – I also know that other councils would follow our path. The Housing Delivery Agreement model would work by giving councils like mine the working capital to maximise our own assets to deliver as many affordable homes as possible. It would also ensure that resources are channelled directly to where they are needed, free from layers of red tape which happens when funding is directed through the GLA.
London needs a new housing delivery model, one that puts local authorities and local communities in the driving seat. Put simply, the time for talking is over.