Unlocking London’s Housing Potential – what more can we do?

Last year, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) produced a very useful report into housing in London, ‘Getting our house in order’.  The report aimed to build a ‘business case’ for the creation of more homes in the Capital, noting the urgent need for more homes at all levels in London, and urging Government (national, regional and local) to work together to deliver more homes for London’s workforce.

This week LCCI has published a follow-up paper, Unlocking London’s Housing Potential’, focusing on one of the main recommendations in their original report – the release of public land for housing. Public land release is especially important for the development of affordable housing yet, as Pocket is quoted as saying in the report, it can take up to four times longer to acquire land and planning on public sector sites in London than private acquisitions.  This can be crippling for a small developer like Pocket.

Housing for the people who make London tick

More needs to be done to support the development of housing in London, especially housing that is specifically designed for the crucial workforce that keeps the city ticking. The report highlights that ‘51% of London firms believe the lack of housing… was the issue having the most impact on their business…’.  London needs the right kind of housing in the right locations in order to keep these talented and valuable people living in, and contributing to, their communities.  We have been banging this drum since Pocket started building affordable homes, so it’s great to have more voices added to this call.

Consensus about what we need

At the launch this week, the great and the good of the London political hierarchy showed complete consensus around the need for housing that delivers for those on moderate incomes. Sir Ed Lister, Sir Bob Kerslake, Sir Steve Bullock, Ric Blakeway and Diane Abbot MP (with an increased majority she reminded us!), all agreed that the people in most need are those who are so crucial to London’s success. In fact, they sounded like they could be reading from our website! They also all agreed that small and medium sized developers are critical to the delivery of this type of housing.

And yet…… this all sounded eerily familiar. The debate in this area has been had many times and as mentioned, there is much consensus. So what’s the hold up? As Kate Allen from the panel said, the governance of London is “both too big and too small”.  The GLA’s relationship with many of the 32 local authorities remains complex, and the local authorities often lack the resources and staff required to get public land released and housing starts moving.

Our take on what’s required to ‘unlock London’s housing potential’

We need turbo-charged public land release, with sites designated for the delivery of starter homes.  We need a light-touch legal process between local authorities and developers, allowing the two to work together openly, trust each other, and share the upside.   We also need panels of small and medium sized developers to be welcomed by local authorities.

A good starting point would be for the GLA to invite small developers and contractors to join a panel. Then we need the boroughs and the GLA to work out a governance relationship which allows them to develop better mutual understanding and deeper trust to help projects move forward more smoothly.

While we are incredibly grateful to LCCI for continuing to shed light on this difficult area and build the business case so Government can’t ignore the harm that is being caused, we do need to start seeing action rather than just hearing more talk.  We believe it is possible to drive forward the release of public land for the benefit London’s first time buyers, delivering more Pocket-style starter homes for city makers. Pocket is here to help deliver the reform required.

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