London Tory challenges Sadiq Khan over family-size homes policy

London Tory challenges Sadiq Khan over family-size homes policy

Sadiq Khan has been accused by a Conservative member of the London Assembly of letting down Londoners in overcrowded housing, as the Mayor used his first Question Time session since before the coronavirus lockdown to highlight “record” numbers of affordable homes started in the capital in 2019/20.

Citing figures from the Resolution Foundation showing significant overcrowding in the capital – 16 per cent, or one in six families living in such conditions – plus tweets from London Labour MP Karen Buck, Tory AM Andrew Boff clashed with Khan over City Hall support for family housing.

The Mayor’s housing strategy had scrapped targets for family homes, while the London Plan blueprint for new homes was encouraging developers to build small ones, said Boff. With some 370,000 children living in overcrowded households in the capital and social housing particularly overcrowded, it was time to “reinstate an investment target for family housing,” he told Khan.

But commitments on family housing in previous strategies had been “aspirations” only, Khan replied. “The previous Mayor’s strategy did not have a target for family-sized homes”, he said, while by contrast his draft new London Plan is “the first that requires councils to carry out an assessment of what their local needs are”, including housing size targets for the mix of social housing needed.

Wider targets for family housing would see more market rate housing provided, said Khan, but not the “affordable homes at social rents” needed by Londoners in overcrowded accommodation. He said that overcrowding in social housing was “down to the failure of successive governments to replenish the stock of social rented homes – with only one new home built for every five sold under Right to Buy provisions – while funding remained “disproportionately skewed” towards one or two bed “intermediate” housing, for sale or rent below market prices but above social rent levels. 

The Tory attack followed communities secretary Robert Jenrick’s recent toughly-worded rejection of Khan’s draft London Plan, in which he accused the Nayor of “driving people out of our capital when they want to have a family” and directed City Hall to beef up the Plan’s provisions for family-sized homes.

The Plan – focused on providing “good quality, genuinely affordable homes in greener neighbourhoods”, according to Khan, currently requires councils to set size requirements for “low-cost rent” homes, taking into account local need. Jenrick’s directions  would require boroughs to have specific regard generally to “the need for additional family housing” when determining all applications.

The stand-off over the Plan continues, with City Hall officials currently in discussion with Whitehall to agree a final version. “The Mayor is committed to moving ahead with his new London Plan as quickly as possible to give much-needed certainty to the construction industry and to deliver the good growth Londoners deserve,” a City Hall spokesman told On London this week. “It is up to the secretary of state to agree to the publication of the final version”.

Discussions with government are also focused on the need for additional funding for affordable housing, Khan told Assembly Members.  “It is likely the demand for social rent homes will grow,” he said. “The government should use this awful crisis and a potential recession to properly fund council housing.” 

New figures showed more than 17,000 affordable homes started in London in 2019/20, he added, with 7,000 for social rent including more than 3,300 council homes – the most in any year since 1982. “Over the past three years we’ve broken record after record for the amount of genuinely affordable homes available for Londoners,” he said. “That’s the way to meet the needs of those families who desperately need decent-sized homes.”

Photograph of house in Hammersmith by Omar Jan.

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