|Brent Cross - One of Barnets mega schemes|
My solution to this would be to set up a London housing commission. The first task would be to identify what sort of housing we need to address the crisis. The first principles should be
* There is affordable, cheap and decent quality housing for key working people, close to their place of work. So developments near schools should have a designated percentage of units for teachers and other support staff at rents which are affordable, or with schemes to enable the staff to buy at heavy discounts (perhaps with partial ownership etc). The same should be true for hospitals, police stations and other key public industries.
* Large new developments should include a percentage of council housing. The developers should build these and supply them to councils at cost. These would then be available to councils to address the huge waiting lists.
* Councils should be legally obliged to set up hostels and proper support services for London's homeless. I have been a volunteer at several charities for homeless people for many years. I find the comments of some commentators laughable when they talk about luxury housing developments being the solution to these problems. The needs of the homeless are very specialised. Many have issues with substance abuse and mental health issues. The first step on addressing their housing problem is to get them proper medical treatment for such issues.
* Measures to address land banking and the buying of properties for investments, that are left empty. Many developers have bought huge swathes of land and are not developing it, as this ensures that the demand is greater than the supply. This means that large profits are guaranteed. As to the practice of building luxury flats and selling them to offshore investors, who simply leave them empty, this is criminal when people are unable to find accommodation. My solution would be to introduce punitive tax rates to ensure that if land is lying undeveloped or properties are sitting empty, the owners will be highly taxed, to incentivise them to develop the sites or open them up for rental. I would ensure that the income from these taxes was directed into procurement of council housing.
* Creation of a 'London land register'. Local authorities, state industries, developers and other large land owners should be compelled to provide details of all land holdings of over 2 acres. These could then be assessed as to whether they are suitable for development of social housing. A key feature of this should be to also match this with a London Transport plan. It is pointless building homes on places where there is no sensible infrastructure to support the homes. Air quality and other pollution issues must also be considered.
* Allow local authorities to employ their own labour force to build council housing. My brother worked for the GLC when it built the Grahame Park Estate. When Margaret Thatcher became PM, she disbanded the GLC and ended direct labour forces. The passing of the right to buy laws and the forbidding of using cash raised to build more council housing is the root cause of our current crisis.
In short, the answer to the problem is for councils to build decent council housing for young families and key workers. This can either be done in partnership with the private sector or by authorities setting up their own labour forces.
My belief is that by setting up a proper plan for London housing and infrastructure, we could make our city work of the people who live here. Just plonking huge skyscrapers on islands of land surrounded by busy roads, with no local infrastructure to support them is not a fit for purpose solution. Building 'luxury flats' for offshore investors, who won't live in then is, to my mind criminal.
|Grenfell - why high rise needs sturdy regulataions|
The second issue I have with large tower blocks is that they are not places to raise families. Children need space to roam. I see no problems in working people living in high rise flats, but as soon as they have children, they need space. The UK is having a mental health crisis and I believe that a contributing factor is the lack of space to roam safely for children. Garden spaces should be seen as a right for families. The towers that Sadiq Khan passed last week, may be suitable for student accommodation at Middlesex University, assuming the transport issues can be resolved, or for single workers commuting into the city on Thameslink. It is not part of a holistic solution for the housing problems of our city. sThe fact that one in six of the new flats going up in London are being sold to oversees investors shows that the developments are not for Londoners. In sought after areas such as Mill Hill, this percentage is likely to be much higher.
The key questions we should be asking are as follows, before we pass large scale plans.
* Who needs housing in the area and what are their requirements?
* Is the infrastructure in place to support the development?
* Are the developments fit for purpose and safe?
* Are the developments affordable for the people who need them?
* What impact will the development have on the surrounding area and the neighbours?
There will always be compromises, but these should never be on safety and well being. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Property developers making profits and being innovative. But there is also a requirement for social responsibility. Developers agenda is to make as much money as possible. The responsibility for making sure that the requirement to serve the community is served is down to the Government and the Mayor. It is clear that at the moment both are failing in their duties. Not only do we have a shortage of homes. We have a glut of developments that won't fix the problem.