How could the local elections affect development in London?
The housing crisis is felt most acutely by people within the M25 and has led to increasing numbers of Londoners, through no fault of their own, being priced out of the city in which they were born or have taken to calling their home. The private rental sector in particular is often defined by insecure tenancies, increasing rents and overcrowded houses.
Labour have a strong message on affordable housing and the issue is likely to play a central role in explaining the swing in support they are expecting to see across London.
Government funding cuts to councils has impacted on their ability to deliver key services and this will not go unnoticed by voters. A recent poll by Lord Ashcroft found that only 18% of voters in Conservative-run councils think they deliver on their promise of lower taxes and better services. Key Conservative messages are not cutting through as much and Labour are filling that void.
The swing in support Labour are expecting could see them gain control of councils across London such as Barnet, Wandsworth and probably Hillingdon. In such cases, new Cabinets are likely to be more cynical towards developers.
The Conservatives will probably hold on to more councils than generally anticipated – including Kingston and Kensington & Chelsea – but with majorities heavily slashed. Councillors in these boroughs on the whole aren’t likely to be as sceptical of developers as those seen in Labour dominated boroughs, but there’s likely to be some impact.
An interesting facet of this election will be the impact of Momentum. They did not exist at the 2014 local elections and they’ve inspired people into political activism across the country. This will mean more of them knocking on doors for Labour. Ambitious and hungry for control, they are continuing in their efforts to push out moderate Labour politicians across the Capital. They are highly sceptical of private developers, as well as private-public development programmes. For business, this means trying to work with more unstable and sceptical councils.
How scepticism towards developers could manifest
Residential development is much more of a key issue for voters compared to other types of development. Councils might place further pressure on developers to maximise affordable housing as a proportion of overall numbers. Arguments involving viability assessments are less likely to get a sympathetic ear.
‘Affordable’ is a key word here – so expect the necessity for more affordable office space to have more prominence too.
Residents would be less hesitant to point out to councillors the need for infrastructure with new development such as schools, GP practices and roads.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan wants residents to be balloted where demolition is proposed at regeneration schemes. Councillors would be more sympathetic to residents’ concerns.
Mitigating the risk
Developers should expect and plan for a higher degree of public and political scrutiny. It will be more important than ever to proactively invest in community consultation and reflect on what stakeholders say. This isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes long-term financial sense too.
This article was written by Kashif Taher, Account Executive at MPC.