There is a sense in which last Wednesday’s meeting of the London Assembly’s housing committee has been overtaken by events, what with the new Prime Minister charging off in some different directions from her disgraced predecessor and the new Chancellor’s not-a-budget “fiscal event” on Thursday being described by Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies as “betting the house“. But what will the effects of government housing-related policies as they stand be on London’s ability to address its numerous housing problems?
That was the question the committee put to its guests, who included the deputy mayor for housing and residential development Tom Copley (pictured). He was concerned about some of the legislation going through Parliament and concerned also that some of the bits he likes could be watered down or dumped.
The long, long Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is now at the committee stage in the parliamentary process. Its publication in May followed the long, long wait for Michael Gove’s long, long “levelling up” white paper, which followed the Boris Johnson government’s frantic U-turn away from boldly liberalising the planning system, which followed the Tories’s crushing defeat by the Liberal Democrats in the Chesham & Amersham by-election.
The bill proposes amending the 1999 Greater London Authority Act, which brought the mayoralty into being, to limit the scope of the London Plan – the mayor’s master blueprint for London’s spatial development – in a manner which would prevent in future the introduction of supplementary planning guidance such as Sadiq Khan has issued to “fast track” planning applications which include a minimum of 35% affordable housing on site.
Praising this early step, Copley said it had led to “an increase in the level or affordable housing on developments that are referred to the Mayor from around 22% when he took office to 41% by habitable room”. It’s also pleased developers who, as was intended, appreciate the certainty it’s given them. However, “the ability of the present Mayor and other Mayors, to implement polices like that and to innovate and to mitigate against some of the negative impacts about what the government is proposing will be much more constrained,” he continued.
The GLA, he added, is working on how it can get the government’s proposals amended. “But I am very, very worried that there might now be a bit of a direction of travel away from devolution, which will in turn limit the ability of the Mayor and of City Hall to help the people that we know need help the most.”
An aspect of “levelling up” Copley and Mayor Khan are keep on is the white paper “mission” to halve the number of rented homes that don’t meet “decent” standards to have fallen by 50% by 2030. Copley supports decent homes standards being brought into the private rented sector.”It’s vital that no matter what sector you live in you can have a decent home,” but said those standards would have to brought up to date from 2006 to recognise modern sustainability and energy efficiency requirements.
Copley expressed particular disquiet about the Renters’ Reform Bill, saying it would be “a great shame” if this “really important piece of legislation” did not now reach the statute book. “Although it doesn’t go as far as the Mayor and I would like it to go, it does contain some policies that will really improve things for the private rented sector, including many policies that were proposed under the Mayor’s London model.”
The white paper anticipating the bill, published in June, was greeted by Shelter as a “game changer” for private renters across England, with its proposals for ending so-called “no fault evictions” as enshrined in the 1988 Housing Act and ensuring that landlords, in Shelter’s words, “play by the rules”.
The Social Housing Regulation Bill, also published in June, is another piece of potential legislation from the Johnson-led government. Introduced in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, it entered its committee stage last month. It envisages creating a social housing regulator with an advisory panel – including representation from the GLA and the housing minister – in charge of a system of “Ofsted-style inspections” and powers to regulate standards and give tenants greater powers to hold landlords to account.
Although lobbying continues to strengthen parts of the bill – consultation is still in progress – these ideas have enjoyed widespread support since their white paper stage, including from the G15 group of London housing associations. But this too falls into Copley’s category of uncertainty. What will the Liz Truss-led Conservative government see through into law and what will it dump? At this point in the proceedings, who knows?
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