A People’s Land Commission can close London’s house building gap

Forget homes built by big developers for investors. What about homes built for Londoners, by Londoners?

 

Residents of the Ducane Housing Association in Hammersmith and Fulham, Walters Way in Lewisham and the Andover estate in Islington could provide some keys to closing London’s house building gap.

I’ve spent the past few years resisting the environmental and social damage wreaked by Boris’ developers, who flatten biodiversity and demolish homes to build very expensive flats, two thirds of which are sold to investors. But some mistakenly assume that I’m therefore anti-development.

Instead of helping big developers and investors steamroll over local communities, in a new report I argue that getting behind those communities could unlock opportunities to build another 70,000 homes in London over the next decade, closing the gap the Mayor identifies in his London Plan.

It was a presentation on the Ducane Housing Association that got me thinking about unusual ways to build new homes without such negative consequences.

I was told about the Ducane project when looking at ways to refurbish homes to reduce carbon emissions. The housing association was able to refurbish the existing 112 homes to Decent Homes standard, with increased levels of insulation to achieve the EcoHomes “Very Good” Standard. They did this by building 44 homes on top of the low rise blocks, using the income from the sales to help finance the project.

If you look up while walking around London you’ll see it’s not uncommon to build on top of existing buildings. But nobody is looking to maximise this potential.

Using figures I obtained from councils, I’ve estimated that building just two extra storeys on one third of low-rise blocks owned by councils could yield an extra 50,000 homes across London. Much more could come from privately owned blocks.

Another idea came from work on the Mayor’s attempts to weaken car parking standards. Aside from the need to curb hellish congestion resulting from the Mayor’s flawed transport policies, this will also waste a lot of space. Some boroughs allow far more car parking than others – Bromley is one of the worst, providing on average 1.26 car spaces per new home. But Sutton, another outer London borough, provides just 0.37 per new home.

If all outer London boroughs stuck to Sutton’s average, we’d not only have less traffic but also space for another 7,200 homes over ten years.

My third suggestion came from talking with the Federation of Master Builders, and small developers with innovative ideas for London. Small sites are projected to provide over 100,000 new homes over the next decade, but the Mayor does little to find new sites, or help small builders and community groups bring them forward and get the most out of them.

Down the road from me are several 1980s self-build projects, famous for their use of Walter Segal’s construction techniques. They got homes onto marginal land that Lewisham council had written off. There is plenty of potential for small, nimble outfits to get more out of small sites overlooked by the bigger developers.

Finally, there’s the Andover Estate in Islington. The community developed their own plans to regenerate their estate, finding space for five times as many new homes as the council had assumed. The council inexplicably blocked them, but the next Mayor could get behind such initiatives. After a decade of estate schemes that have seen a net loss of 8,000 social rented homes, why not give the tenants a shot at something better?

My big idea is this: the Mayor has a London Land Commission, which will identify and flog off surplus public land. I suggest turning it into a People’s Land Commission, helping local communities to explore these opportunities and get new homes built that local people can really support. Forget homes built by big developers for investors. What about homes built for Londoners, by Londoners?

Darren Johnson is a London Assembly Member for the Green Party. Follow him on Twitter

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