Why London’s next mayor needs more powers

The right form of devolution will help solve London's housing crisis


We can solve the housing crisis in London, and build the 40-60,000 new homes a year we need, including considerable new council housing.

We can control rents so that young Londoners aren’t priced out of our city and we can tackle the worst landlords who let out properties in appalling conditions at extortionate rates.

And we can create vibrant communities where tenants, not managing companies, are given the power to shape the area they live in.

We can do all of this if we win new rights and powers for London so together we can shape our destiny ourselves.

The housing crisis is the most pressing issue in our city, and there are a number of things the next mayor can do straight away.

We must oppose the Tory plans to force councils to sell their most valuable stock to pay for the extension of right to buy to housing association properties. These policies do nothing to address the fundamental cause of the housing crisis in London – the failure to build enough homes.

I would set up a Housing Company, building on the model pioneered by a number of local authorities including Enfield and Sheffield, using publicly owned land, and able to attract private finance from the bond market and individual investors to build social and affordable housing.

And I would reintroduce the target that Ken Livingstone first introduced, and that Boris Johnson abandoned, for 50 per cent of homes at any new development to be affordable. An immediate increase in the target might risk halting some development so I would want a rising target, reaching 50 per cent by the end of a mayoral term.

But I believe we must be honest with Londoners: the mayor needs to have additional powers if we are to end the housing crisis, and build the affordable homes we need in our city.

That is why I have made the devolution of powers to London the central theme of my campaign.

After Newham Council introduced a successful landlord licensing scheme, the Tories changed the rules to require local authorities to obtain the consent of the secretary of state before introducing a similar licensing scheme of their own.

We shouldn’t have to go cap in hand to those in Whitehall or the two men in Downing Street to introduce such solutions in our city.

The right to buy will be abolished in Scotland in August 2016, and the Scottish government can introduce a rent cap if it wants to. London has the highest rents and the most severe shortage of homes, so I believe the mayor should have these powers too.

Key to tackling the housing crisis will be reforming London’s broken land market. The high cost of land means developers spend less on the quality of homes they build, invest less in local infrastructure, and often try to reduce the amount of affordable housing.

I want to reform compulsory purchase order powers to encourage landowners to sell at a reasonable price within designated zones for housing, as is done successfully in many European cities.

My inspiration for London’s future can be found at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank. In between the glitzy restaurant on the top floor and the cafes at the bottom are five levels of social, co-op housing. The tenants set the rents – they’re some of the lowest in London – and they set the rules.

If we are to support the kind of vibrant, diverse communities that exist at the Oxo Tower, in more parts of London, we need to have the same powers and control over the housing market that the Scottish government has.

I want Londoners to have much more of a say over the decisions that affect their lives, and if I was mayor I would hold a referendum in September 2016 on whether more powers, including control of the housing market, should be devolved to London.

It is only by having more powers that we will be able to tackle the housing crisis our city faces.

Gareth Thomas is the Labour & Co-op MP for Harrow West and is standing to be the Labour candidate for London mayor. Follow him on Twitter

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