It’s time to drop the ban on building new homes on the capital’s Green Belt in order to tackle London’s escalating housing crisis, according to a hard-hitting new report from the city’s think tank Centre for London.
Developing “low-quality areas” of Green Belt would allow annual housebuilding to double from the 37,000 homes built in 2021/22 to approximately 74,000 a year for a 15-year period, creating enough homes for Londoners on only a “small fraction” of the currently protected land, the centre says.
The report recommends that as well as building to greater densities in the inner city, Sadiq Khan should set up a commission to identify 10 Green Belt sites for new housing near railway stations, particularly its so-called “grey belt” areas of “low ecological quality”. New mayoral development corporations, backed with long-term government funding, should be established to take the plans forward, including compensating for any loss of nature.
The comprehensive report paints a grim, albeit now sadly familiar, picture of the capital’s housing crisis: one in four Londoners living in poverty after housing costs; two in five in homes that have suffered from damp or mould in the past year; housing benefit covering the cost of just two per cent of rental homes; rough sleeping up by 50 per cent in ten years; and more than 300,000 households on council waiting lists as homelessness and its associated costs for the boroughs continues to rise.
It tells a story of a long-term failure: London’s population has grown by nearly 32 per cent since 1991, but its housing stock has expanded by just less than 29 per cent and solutions need to be long-term too rather than the “plague” of short-term responses which have characterised approaches so far.
There are grim warnings about the consequences of failing to act too: key and skilled workers pushed out of the capital, councils spending more and more on temporary accommodation, and ultimately a hit to the city’s economy, its desirability as a place to live and its international competitiveness.
Alongside its Green Belt proposals, the report calls for a long-term government funding boost for affordable housing, amounting to £15.1 billion a year nationally to support construction of 90,000 social homes a year in England over 15 years, two-thirds of them in London.
Affordable housing grant and settlements determining council and housing association rent levels should run over terms of at least ten years terms, while housing benefit rates should rise annually to reflect that actual cost of renting. The Right to Buy scheme should be scrapped to keep social homes in public hands.
Control over property taxes, including council tax and stamp duty should also be devolved to the capital, the report says, with City Hall urged to investigate fairer tax models, such as proportional property tax, and innovative ways to capture more of the land value created by public investment.
The report puts the case for planning new housing at a strategic level across the wider south east region, with a swipe at local politicians too – “incentivised to oppose new development if they believe their voters will oppose it”, but with no mechanism for people who might move to new homes to get their voices heard.
“London’s housing crisis is the result of policy failures – it is within our gift to solve it,” said the centre’s head of research Josh Cottell as the report was launched. “The upcoming mayoral and general elections create the perfect opportunity for parties to do just that, by implementing the long-term solutions we have outlined in this report.”
Centre for London’s report was published as Enfield Council continued its push to include Green Belt sites in its plans for new housing. The borough has some 3,000 households currently in long-term temporary accommodation, but housing delivery there is forecast to decline from 2029.
The latest draft of the council’s Local Plan to 2041 proposes some 9,000 new homes, up from 6,000 on the earlier draft, on two Green Belt sites within its boundaries, at Chase Farm and Crews Hill in the north of the borough. The sites, the plan says, will play a “crucial role in meeting Enfield’s housing needs, especially in delivering larger family-sized and affordable homes”, with “enhancements” to open space also planned.
The move puts the council at odds with Mayor Khan’s London Plan prohibitions on Green Belt development, and Conservative opposition leader Alessandro Georgiou has already signalled the level of opposition to the plan, telling the Enfield Dispatch that despite having already received a “record number of objections,” the council was continuing to “proceed with ruining anything that is valued by residents. Quite frankly, local democracy is dead in Enfield.”
The draft Local Plan will go to a full council meeting in March, with a six-week public consultation period before a final version goes to a public inquiry.
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