London's promise of affordable homes

In London, there has been the continuing problem of house prices rising faster than wages and politicians making promises to try to deal with that.

Under Boris Johnson, previous Mayor of London, we were told “If we are to improve the quality of life for all Londoners, then we must do something about the impact housing has on the rising cost of living”. This statement, amongst other promises, helped Mr Johnson win the 2008 London elections. However, at the end of his two terms, the bleak truth is that Londoners are spending more on housing than ever before.

Before taking office, the average Londoner was spending 6.5 times their annual earnings on homes and by the end of Mr Johnson’s two terms that rose to 10.4 times average earnings. Whilst the promise to deal with the growing housing crisis was welcome, he just did not do enough to encourage developers to build, especially more affordable housing. In fact, he pushed through redevelopment schemes that were often rejected by local authorities as they did not offer enough affordable housing that would please local residents.

In 2016, Sadiq Khan’s campaign once again placed housing as a top priority. For anyone that did not follow the campaign, Sadiq is the son of a bus driver and he grew up on a council estate. Mr Khan was grateful that during that time, he was able to get on the housing ladder with more ease than is available today. He, too, sympathised with the average Londoner who could not save enough to get on the property ladder or to even rent in London. Voters once again supported a candidate who promised to make London affordable.

The new London Supplementary Planning guidance will set out a new alternative to viability through an innovative threshold approach. It will allow developers to skip viability assessments for projects that provide a minimum of 35% affordable housing. It will also provide a new definition of “affordable housing”, which will introduce rates based on median earnings.

There have been promises to also have more of a focus on alternative land sites in London. The Mayor and his deputies have praised schemes that have used Transport for London owned sites, like that in Kidbrook, Greenwich, but also identify the need to look at the use of other public land.

Whilst there is a will to build more genuinely affordable homes in London, the means are not always available. With rail developments taking place and land becoming more expensive, residents are becoming more cautious of the level of redevelopment taking place around them. In part, as a response, the planning agenda is becoming more restrictive of developments. There may be a tough road ahead.

However, the Mayor’s tougher demands on affordable housing leave me hopeful for new opportunities for all Londoners. We can achieve our aims and his goal of creating a London with more affordable homes that allow a boy who grew up on a council estate to afford a London home once more.

This article was written by Mabel Ogundayo, Senior Account Executive with MPC.

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