Mayor’s deputy for housing defends delivery record against Tory critic

Mayor’s deputy for housing defends delivery record against Tory critic

Back in March 2016, Candidate Khan set out his manifesto for the London mayoralty. “My first priority will be tackling the housing crisis,” he said. Almost five years on, Mayor Khan’s housing deputy Tom Copley was in the spotlight at yesterday’s “end of term” meeting of the London Assembly housing committee, defending his boss’s record.

In a dress rehearsal for the City Hall election campaign to come, statistics were centre stage. Copley said that in 2019/20 a “record” number of affordable homes were started, as well as more homes for social rent than in the “whole of the previous mayor’s second term” and more new council homes than any year since 1983.

Figures collated by the committee show 17,256 new affordable homes supported by mayoral funding started in 2019/20, just over his target of between 17,000 and 23,000 homes, and not only the highest number in Khan’s term but also the “highest number of affordable starts ever recorded by the GLA”.

Social rent starts were also up by 79 per cent on the previous year, to 7,156, the highest total since 2010/11, and 3,304 council homes were started under Khan’s Building Council Homes for Londoners programme launched in 2018.

Record numbers but also “record” £4.82 billion government funding to provide 116,000 new affordable homes by 2023, said Conservative Group housing spokesperson Andrew Boff – with 60,594 homes underway but 55,000 more still to be started. 

Construction had been hit hard by Covid, said Copley, along with the impact of leaving the EU and the costs of the post-Grenfell “cladding scandal” falling on housing associations. But the 2020/21 target of 10,300 starts would be met, he said.

Transport for London is also still aiming to provide 10,000 homes on some 50 mainly Outer London sites, despite recent setbacks including schemes rejected by planning committees in Enfield and Harrow, Copley said. 

The 162-home 40 per cent affordable scheme at Arnos Grove Tube station turned down by Enfield councillors was “one of the best developments I’ve ever seen coming forward,” he said, clashing with Boff, who accused TfL of failing to engage with Outer London residents opposing its schemes.

“If we can’t build medium, mid-rise housing near Tube stations we aren’t serious about tackling the housing crisis,” Copley said. “TfL will always continue to engage with residents, but as well as existing residents who already have a home, I’m interested in people who don’t have a home.” 

Copley also faced criticism over the performance of the mayor’s Old Oak & Park Royal development corporation, billed as the UK’s largest regeneration project but dogged by problems including the rejection of its local plan by planning inspectors, disputes with the largest landowner in the area, the loss of £250 million government grant and approvals in place for just 6,000 homes against a target of 25,000.  

New management was in place and a revised plan forming the blueprint for future development would be approved by the end of the year, said Copley.

There was further challenge over family homes, with Copley reminded by Boff that in his previous role as an AM he had supported a call for a review of mayoral housing and planning policies to provide for more family-sized housing.  

Policies were always kept under review, Copley said, adding that the recently-approved London Plan includes a new requirement for boroughs to mandate house sizes on social housing developments, and latest figures showed that 41 per cent of new social rented housing is family sized.

And while this time last year, before the postponement of the mayoral poll, Khan was pledging to make the election a “referendum on rent controls”, Copley was more circumspect, answering criticism from Boff that rent controls elsewhere had “increased rents and reduced supply”.

The Mayor would continue to lobby for improved conditions for private renters –  who account for 25 per cent of Londoners – including rent control, Copley said. And Khan would not be “imposing” rent controls, but appointing a commission to “determine what the appropriate model” might be. 

The full housing committee meeting can be viewed here.

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