More affordable housing should be built in Outer London in order to make the best of available funds, create greater social mix in suburban areas and address the chronic shortage of homes for low and middle income households in Inner London, according to a new report.
Think tank Centre for London argues that formal partnerships between London boroughs could bring about the pooling of land and money to maximise the quantities of affordable housing built, uniting those that have funds but few and very expensive sites for building on with those which have more and cheaper sites but are short of finance.
“The cost of land accounts for more than half of the cost of building a standard flat in a Central London location as opposed to around a quarter of the cheapest suburban equivalent,” says the report. “For the total cost of building one home in central London, four can be constructed in cheaper areas of the capital.”
It states that bespoke collaborations between boroughs with money to spend and those with available land “could achieve better value for money and enable the delivery of up to five times more affordable housing across London than current levels”, concentrating on Outer London boroughs with lower amounts of affordable homes.
The report, which is informed by advice from an array of housing providers, borough officers and other policy experts, recommends that the Mayor of London should facilitate suitable partnerships and the relevant involvement of housing associations and private developers, which are able to operate more easily across borough boundaries.
It also asks the government to permit boroughs the necessary flexibility to spend resources outside of their own areas and renews calls previously made by London mayors and the boroughs for them to be given more freedom to borrow for building and to make greater use of receipts from council stock lost through right-to-buy.
The partnerships proposed would represent a break from traditional London local authority practice, though the report points out that boroughs have pooled service delivery functions in recent years, such as in adult social care, and claims its research has found an appetite for extending this to housing.
It recognises other barriers, ranging from the need for agreement between partner boroughs on the mix of tenure types in new housing developments and the numbers of waiting list households each could nominate for the new homes, to public concerns about the movement of people from familiar neighbourhoods and the poor to the outer reaches of the metropolis against their wishes.
However, one of the report’s authors, Centre For London’s Silviya Barrett, says that “at a time when London boroughs are having to house their most vulnerable residents beyond the city’s boundaries, increasing the supply of affordable housing in cheaper areas of London could provide better access to jobs and social networks than the present situation, while preserving the mixed communities that characterise the capital”.
The report, entitled Strength in Numbers, is here.