The changing nature of affordability in London

‘Affordable housing’ - the term bandied around in House of Commons speeches, Government White papers and development briefs. Stretched to the point of meaninglessness, little notice has been paid to the changing nature of housing affordability.

With house prices rising at record speeds the term affordable means even less than it did a year ago, and has become a serious point of contention. People are angry and suspicious that what is billed to them as ‘affordable housing’ is not affordable in any real sense. At MPC, not a single pre-application public consultation event goes by when we do not hear “affordable housing? It isn’t really going to be affordable to people around here is it?” With Londoners spending over 60% of their salary on rent, nowhere is the issue of affordability more important than in London.

During the Mayoral campaign Sadiq Khan made much of his ‘Homes for Londoners’ pledge and set a target for 50% of all new homes in London to be genuinely affordable, but immediately after winning his team began back peddling and clarified that 50% genuinely affordable homes was a longer term strategic aim to be looked at when the London Plan is next reviewed. Last month whispers about a 35% affordable housing requirement to replace complicated viability assessments began circulating. It is now understood that supplementary planning guidance due to be unveiled in the autumn could include a benchmark of 35% affordable for developers. It is likely that failure to meet this threshold could include more robust scrutiny and public examination by the GLA.

Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan

Jules Pipe, the recently appointed deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills, said a 35% affordable housing target for certain types of development would help to remove uncertainty over viability. However, it remains unlikely that viability assessments will be scrapped altogether as this would involve changing the London Plan.

It remains unclear, how a possible 35% affordable housing requirement will be implemented given that there are undoubtedly projects in the pipeline which are too far into the planning process to be renegotiated. Both Jules Pipe and James Murray themselves admit that there will inevitably be some give and take. However, it is clear that City Hall are keen to get the supplementary guidance published quickly rather than going through the laborious task of a London Plan review, in order to provide certainty to the industry and address the issues with complicated expensive and time-consuming viability assessments.

This article was written by Aneeka Patel.