Policies Over Personalities
Preparing for a different type of Mayoral Race
So the decision has been made. Housing Associations voted yes to the voluntary extension of the Right to Buy Scheme. The voting was overwhelmingly in favour of the policy, with the votes representing 93% of all social housing properties and 86% of those being yes votes.& The next step is a formal submission to the government.
The other interesting London-based news is the announcement of Zac Goldsmith as the Tory candidate for Mayor of London. Mr Goldsmith and his main rival, Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, have both placed housing right at the top of their priorities in their respective manifestos. So important in fact that Mr Khan, speaking at the Labour conference recently, pledged to turn the election into “a referendum on the housing crisis”.
The Tories are committing to adding 50,000 new homes a year to the London market, facilitated by attracting more overseas investment, releasing publicly owned brownfield sites and getting empty homes onto the market. There is also mention of improving local community engagement to ensure the right properties are built in the right areas and shoring up tenancies by increasing their length and providing more certainty about rent increases. These are bold statements and putting a figure on the number of homes is brave. I have concerns about vetting the source of some of the overseas money flowing into the London property market and I am also interested in how the red tape that holds up so much of this building can be streamlined.
The Labour proposals include targeting 50% affordable housing quotas in new developments, converting affordable rented homes back to social rented and like the Tories, increasing availability of brownfield sites. There is also a strong agenda to ensure new developments maintain a diverse social balance with the removal of “poor doors”. The proposals are again bold, but I have question marks around how a u-turn on affordable rent would affect the budgets of London Housing Associations. I also think the pressure from those buying the most expensive properties to have areas segregated and exclusive to them is difficult to resist. If development projects stop appealing to the rich will it affect the commercial viability of the projects themselves?
The next six months will make compelling viewing, and unlike the previous race between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, it appears we will have a policy-based debate rather than one dominated by two huge personalities. I welcome that, and hope the focus on housing issues will produce interesting innovations and real progress, whoever wins.
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