Andrew Boff is a member of the London Assembly.
One of the biggest issues in trying to solve London’s housing crisis is not building the homes – it’s finding the land to build them on.
Our city has a finite amount of space on which we can develop, and maximising the capacity of that holds the key to achieving positive results.
The Conservatives on the London Assembly have a good record on identifying potential where it has previously been overlooked. My colleague Steve O’Connell, in his Gap in the Market report, found over 4,500 redundant plots in housing blocks and estates across just 13 of London’s 32 boroughs.
Those sites can hold over 10,000 homes and could be utilised by opening the door to small construction firms and self-builders.
With this approach in mind, it was with disappointment that I read in Sadiq Khan’s London Plan his intention to further increase regulations on industrial land.
Strategic Industrial Land (SIL) has historically, and rightly in the main, had its use for commercial purposes protected. We do after all need to provide space for business to operate.
Some recent research I undertook though found that large areas of Strategic Industrial Land sit within London’s Housing Zones – 13 areas of land specifically identified as being ripe for building homes.
What this means is around 490 hectares of largely empty land, which has been identified as being perfect for building houses, cannot be built on.
Under current policy, councils are able to change the status of SIL in special circumstances – and one would assume that these would qualify given the contradiction of the land status.
However, what Sadiq Khan wants to do is make local boroughs replace every inch of reclassified industrial land with the same amount elsewhere.
Given that land is such a finite resource, this will effectively be impossible, locking in the sites for industrial purposes, whether they are used or continue to sit vacant.
Using mid-range housing density calculations, I have calculated this land could provide over 27,000 homes if those regulations were removed. Instead, with the Mayor’s new restrictions, it will largely sit vacant.
London is not in a situation where we can allow perfectly suitable land to sit idle in case of a sudden return of the industrial revolution. What we need is homes – and we need them quickly.
Unfortunately, the contradiction of the Mayor’s approach is no surprise to those of us who have worked opposite him for almost two years.
He is a Mayor who will say anything to please anyone. By putting these extra regulations on SIL he is appealing to the business lobby, whilst at the same time claiming he will build record numbers of homes.
The reality is that by attempting to please everyone, the Mayor is failing in his main task – he built 20 per cent fewer homes in his first year than his predecessor.
Contradictory policies like this on SIL only reaffirm the suspicion the Mayor is less interested in being effective, and more interested in making himself look good.