Cllr John Moss is the Conservative Policy Forum “Champion” for the delivery of affordable housing, a Councillor in Waltham Forest, and the Chairman of an Almshouses Charity.
The property agent, Savills, and the think-tank, Create Streets, have calculated that across London, councils could rebuild 100,000 council homes and add another 100,000 more homes in mid-rise “London vernacular” streets. This requires about half of London’s larger council estates to be redeveloped.
The current Mayor has offered small amounts of money to support this. However, he has also put in a requirement for a ballot and these schemes are often difficult to get this going because councils almost always only look at individual estates. That makes it hard to create a timeline of decant, demolish, rebuild and re-house without adding considerably to the cost of the project. Councils need to think bigger. They need to look at this as something like that game where you have eight tiles in a block with nine squares and where you move them around to create a whole new picture.
For the eight tiles, think eight different council estates, possibly not even in the same Borough, but close enough to allow residents to see them as “local”. The key of course is finding the empty square to allow the first move to be made.
So perhaps the Mayor should run a competition open to individual councils or groups of councils, challenging them to identify 5,000 homes across their boroughs which can be demolished and replaced with 10,000 homes? In return, the Mayor could offer to fund the rent on, say, 200 homes for the people who need to move out first to create the “empty square”.
If the net cost of renting those homes was £500 a month, then it would cost just £3,000,000 to move people off site for two and half years. Plenty of time to get a first phase built to allow them to return.
If 400 homes got built in that phase, the first movers can return and the next batch of 200 households can move straight into their new homes, releasing the next phase. Each phase after that would see 200 movers and 200 new households accommodated. And there is no reason this could not be scaled up and happen across multiple sites.
By opening up the first empty square, the whole process can get going. From there it just rolls on and the Mayor could even get their initial investment back from future Right to Buy sales on the re-developed estates.
With the lifting of the debt cap, there is a real appetite in councils to build more homes. Any Conservative Mayor ought to be proud to support that and it would demonstrate a real commitment to helping those who often suffer the worst housing conditions. It would be a fine legacy to say they had improved the quality of housing for existing tenants and created double the number of council homes that were there before.