Developers must do more to win trust in housing schemes, Centre For London conference hears

Developers must do more to win trust in housing schemes, Centre For London conference hears

Developers are still not doing enough to win the trust of Londoners, with a continuing disconnect between rhetoric and delivery, particularly on affordable housing. That was the message from Lendlease Europe boss Dan Labbad, speaking to a packed audience at think tank Centre for London’s annual London conference this week.

“I don’t think anyone has got this right yet,” he said, speaking at a panel session on “resetting the public conversation” about London housing, while warning that communities would no longer let the industry get away with avoiding affordable housing obligations.

Labbad nevertheless defended his company’s record, including its involvement with the ill-fated Haringey Development Vehicle, a proposed 50:50 joint venture company planned with the Haringey Council under the leadership of Claire Kober, but dropped by its successor Labour administration earlier this year. Lendlease today launched a High Court action over the scrapping of the deal. Longer-term partnership arrangements with mutual benefits were a progressive way forward, Labbad said. “If there was another one on offer we would bid for it in a second.”

“Clued up” communities questioning definitions of affordability and viability assessments used to justify low levels of cheaper housing in developments were contributing to a “challenging environment” for developers, agreed Sadiq Khan’s housing chief, deputy mayor James Murray. But it is an environment which was also contributing to “what we want – more affordable homes”, he added.

The Mayor’s “35 per cent” rule – fast-track planning approval in return for guaranteed 35 per cent affordable homes on new developments – was already having an impact, Murray said, citing property agents Savills reporting in May that developers were now factoring the requirement in when buying land. 

Murray reminded the audience that 2017/18 saw a record 12,500 affordable homes started in the capital, while funding for another 14,000 homes had been allocated under the Mayor’s new Building Council Homes for Londoners programme. But he argued that more powers were needed for “radical intervention” in assembling sites, land valuation and compulsory purchase, to “get tough” on landowners, unlock sites and speed up development, amounting to a “credible threat to make the system work more quickly”.

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould warned against developer short termism and called on the industry to “get serious” about meeting planning requirements and working with residents. Cuts to council planning and development services – more than 50 per cent since 2010 – were hindering efforts to hold developers to account, she emphasised.

Developers could also learn from council-led programmes, Gould said. “Development should be something done with the community, not to them. What we do is led by local residents. We employ local people. We ensure local social tenants move in first. People aren’t against estate regeneration per se, but they need to see what they will get out of it.”

The need for high volume building – City Hall estimates 66,000 new homes are needed in the capital annually, while the government is talking about 100,000, in a row likely to run through to the next mayoral election in 2020 – did not conflict with affordability, said Murray. “It’s not binary. If we want to build more we have to build affordable.”

But current models would not necessarily scale up, he warned, looking ahead to the 2019 Spending Review. “If we are going to have a longer-term solution for more affordable housing we need to be open about the high level of grant we need.”

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