Sadiq Khan’s ambitious plans to build 650,000 new homes over the next 12 years are in line with the Autumn Budget announcements to increase the density of housing in our cities. The strategy to build upwards rather than outwards should limit the amount of green space lost in the process, and provide desperately needed homes in some of London’s key boroughs. While some critics argue this will just cram people into smaller areas, it is encouraging to see politicians making positive moves towards addressing the issue.
This coincides with the Budget announcement focusing development around city centres and transport hubs. The inward investment that Cross Rail and HS2 will provide around their stations should be tremendous. However, identifying large development sites within London is challenging as most significant infrastructure hubs (Paddington Basin, Kings Cross, Vauxhall, etc) are already subject to major development projects. So concentrating on areas outside the centre is a wise move by the Mayor. The key, though, is ensuring the infrastructure (both community infrastructure, such as schools, and transport infrastructure) is ready to support new developments in order to make projects viable.
As well as looking further afield, the Mayor has also identified relaxing planning restrictions as a potential solution to solving the London housing crisis. Easing planning restrictions around the green belt is inherently controversial, leaving height restrictions as one of the few remaining options open to the Mayor.
While old-fashioned high-rise blocks of flats may conjure up images of run-down Council estates, the right kind of modern skyscrapers are a physical way of demonstrating a city’s vibrant economy. Central London’s skyline has always been limited by the height of St. Paul’s, so challenging this established principle is bound to create its own controversy, as demonstrated by previous attempts; Ken Livingstone had similar intentions when he was in office and met considerable resistance. There are similar planning restrictions in outer London; in the south east around Crystal Palace and in the south west around Richmond Park.
Besides the controversy, some question whether high-density accommodation meets the demands of Londoners, particularly young families. The current London plan ensures that all residential accommodation (flats or houses) must have access to some form of outside space, which is a welcome requirement, particularly for those with children, although some parents may feel the outside space available in certain developments is insufficiently private for their needs.
As well as looking at the density of housing, the Mayor is also concerned about the type of housing provision. He is keen to ensure there is a decent supply not only of homes for owner-occupiers but also private rental sector (PRS) homes. PRS homes have traditionally been marketed at young professionals but there is a growing realisation that home ownership in London will be out of reach of huge numbers of workers with families and developers are amending their plans to ensure this sector of the population is catered for. It is obviously important to ensure that everyone has access to housing but whether so many families will simply give up what has for decades been the British dream of home ownership remains to be seen. In addition to the many private homes required, the Mayor wants at least 30% of new homes to be available at the cheapest social rent, with private and social housing built alongside each other to enable greater social integration.
It is encouraging to see politicians grasp the urgency of the housing crisis in London and to see the Mayor’s passion to resolve it. However he responds to London’s housing crisis is bound to be controversial and coming up with a new initiative that projects the city’s vibrancy while resolving one of its major concerns shows bold leadership and one that we need more of, however controversial and challenging it may be to implement.
The plan sets the capital’s development strategy until 2029 and calls for more than 250,000 homes to be built in 13 outer suburbs as part of a new London-wide housebuilding target of 650,000 over that period, more than double the current rate.