Concern for London housebuilding prospects as prominent Tory breaks rank on Green Belt

Concern for London housebuilding prospects as prominent Tory breaks rank on Green Belt

Conservative peer Shaun Bailey has broken rank to call for new housing to be built on the capital’s protected Green Belt. “There is a housing crisis in London. Someone is going to have to be brave and start talking about the Green Belt,” he said. “We will have to have that conversation.”

The former Tory candidate for London Mayor, who was re-elected to the London Assembly under the Conservative banner last month, was speaking at think tank Centre for London’s London housing summit on Wednesday, where he appeared as a late replacement for housing minister Lee Rowley.

Rishi Sunak has consistently ruled out development in the Green Belt surrounding the capital and Sadiq Khan reiterated his own opposition to any encroachment on extensive and hitherto sacrosanct zone immediately after his election victory, telling the London Assembly that there were “sufficient brownfield sites for us to build homes for the foreseeable future”.

Yet Bailey’s view is shared by most Londoners, particularly in relation to “low-quality” Green Belt land near public transport, according to polling figures presented to the summit by Centre for London researcher Jon Tabbush. Majorities also agreed that the London housing market was not “working for them” and backed new housing development in their local areas.

With a need to double the annual rate of housebuilding in the city over the next 15 years to meet demand, housing on “brownfield” sites and suburban “densification” would not be enough, Tabbush said, outlining the centre’s call for “strategic” housebuilding in the Green Belt under new mayoral development corporations, along with more government funding too.

Also at the summit, Tom Copley, Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, said capital was now at a moment of “maximum opportunity”, with the prospect of a Labour government working together with a labour Mayor putting a new focus on affordable housing, proactively creating the conditions for development though master-planning and more support for site assembly and infrastructure, .

But there was less optimism from other participants at the session, with warnings of a continuing shortfall – particularly in critical private investment for housing development in the city – amid a cocktail of concerns about costs, interest rates, safety regulations, skills shortages, planning uncertainties and local authority capacity to oversee complex schemes.

Lack of investment meant a risk of stagnation “beginning to bite”, said Matt Carpen, managing director at the Barking Riverside joint venture between City Hall and L&Q housing association, which is developing some 10,000 homes. And Berkeley group boss Rob Perrins, whose company is currently building 10 per cent of London’s new dwellings, said that national as well as international investors were turning their back on the capital’s residential market.

The warnings echoed concerns expressed earlier this year as government figures showed work beginning on just 580 new homes in London between October and December 2023 – 60 by housing associations, 90 by councils and the remainder by private developers.

Data last month confirmed that “starts” on homes supported through City Hall’s Whitehall-funded affordable homes programme were down by some 90 per cent in 2023/24 compared to the previous year, while in February the capital’s major housing associations said in a letter to ministers that housebuilding in the capital was “grinding to a halt”.

To entice investors back, clear long-term house-building targets and funding arrangements, particularly for infrastructure work to unlock difficult sites, were needed, the summit heard. Participants also called for more government consistency, underlined by the fact that 16 different housing ministers had been in post since 2010. Big challenges await enters Number 10 in July, with the housing prospects of many thousands of Londoners at stake.

X/Twitter: Charles Wright and OnLondon. Support and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Photo from Centre for London.

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