Stop Letting Private Developers Off the Hook

A concerning precedent has been set in recent months by Havering Council’s Planning Department, which arguably counteracts attempts to tackle the housing crisis for local people. In October the CPA studios development in Romford came to my attention, where IPE North Street Ltd proposed to pay £693,936 in lieu of delivering five social rent homes on the 66-unit site. On the face of it this money can be used to deliver those properties as part of another project, but the real issue here is it provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card for any developer looking to avoid delivering 35% affordable units, passing the buck onto the authority. This move will lead to both a decline in homes local people can afford and will undermine social cohesion by creating ‘exclusive’ estates.

Whilst I always champion council housing at traditional low rents, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well. The worrying trend in Havering is counter-productive to both and hands power to private developers. Housing developments, if properly planned, rarely lose money. Local authorities are therefore in a position of strength, as primary landowners, to ensure developers are building homes that residents can afford.

The reality is that most people on housing waiting lists simply cannot afford the standardised “affordable” option which comes in at 80% of market rents, and the new fad of shared-ownership as an “affordable” option leaves people, primarily young people, trapped.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that “affordable” means no more than a third of the average local income on a borough by borough basis.

We’ll be told that this isn’t viable. However, the truth of the matter is that if the political will is there it can be done. It’s time to challenge developers’ notion of viability, designed to maximise their profits at the expense of the housing needs of local families. Basing a development on a 15–35-year return hikes the rents up and is contrary to the interests of millions across the country, pushing many in areas like Romford further away from the security of a home.

The Becontree Estate in Dagenham was built 100 years ago, it remains the most ambitious and largest council housing scheme in the United Kingdom. It was built on a 45-year return model, provided good quality family homes with supporting social infrastructure, and has paid for itself over and above. Whilst an early 20th Century renaissance isn’t the answer, we can learn a lot about sustainable place making from the Becontree Estate.

Stop letting private developers off the hook, start holding them to account. Romford deserves a better future and neither private nor so called “affordable” housing is the answer that young people, families, and all those in between desperately need.

100 Years of Council Housing – Let’s Celebrate by Building Some

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again? There are somewhere in the region of 11,000 local authorities in the United Kingdom, if all of them pledged to build just 20 homes on secure fixed tenancies, at traditional social rents that is nearly a quarter of a million truly affordable homes.

Whilst I champion council housing, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well, I myself benefited from a 65% market rent ‘working persons’ option which lifted me out of homelessness in 2015. However, the majority of people on housing waiting lists cannot afford the standardised ‘affordable’ option which comes in at 80% of market rents.

The Mayor of London has gone some way to address this with the ‘London Living Rent’ and ‘London Affordable Rent’ – which is close to traditional social rents, but I think local authorities can go one better.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that ‘affordable’ means no more than a third of the average local wage on a borough by borough basis.

We’ll be told that this isn’t viable. However, the truth of the matter is that if the political will is there it can be done. It’s time to challenge the notion of ‘viability’. Basing a development on a 15-35 year return hikes the rents up and is contrary to the interests of millions across the country, pushing many further away from the security of a home.

The political system is so caught up in electoral cycles that for the most part we have stopped signing off on legacy projects. I expect a new home to be standing and habitable for generations. If councils, developers and ALMOs base their models on a 45-65 year return, we can start to make real meaningful inroads that provide housing at lower, traditional rent levels.

I’m running to be Labour’s GLA candidate for Havering and Redbridge and if I am selected housing will play a large role in my campaign. I’ll fight to deliver more council housing but make sure that we aren’t overdeveloping to the detriment of existing communities. That means sustainable place making and bringing the community with us on all decisions.

I’ll advocate like for like on all regeneration projects to ensure that families and community networks are preserved, and people aren’t moved on against their wishes. Regeneration shouldn’t be a code-word for social cleansing.

I’m also in full support of the Mayor of London’s call for rent controls. If I make it to City Hall, I’ll work with the Mayor and local authorities to extend licensing schemes, delivering more rights for renters.

There is much more to say but for now I will end where I began.

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again?