The Tories should get their house in order before attacking the London Mayor

The government's housing record is less than stellar, but Secretary of State James Brokenshire still thought it ok to threaten the Mayor of London on his. Tom Copley AM writes.

Last week, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, wrote to the Mayor of London, to launch a politically-motivated attack on his housing policies in the draft London Plan.

It is clear that the government lack a robust and co-ordinated plan of their own to fix the housing crisis, so perhaps this letter is an attempt to distract from that.

With eight different housing ministers having passed through the well-oiled revolving doors of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG, formerly DCLG) since 2010, we have had no consistency and no vision.

Brokenshire’s letter does little to elucidate this, instead threatening to intervene on the Mayor’s upcoming London Plan if it does not abide by the revised national planning policy.

This misses the point that when it comes to housing, the capital has vastly different needs compared to the rest of the country. It is absurd that the Mayor of London, with the biggest individual elected mandate in Europe after the President of France, requires a minister in Whitehall to sign off his London Plan.

Schrodinger would be proud of the way that Brokenshire’s letter simultaneously welcomes and critiques the Mayor’s target to build 65,000 new homes per year in the capital. Moreover, it is worth remembering that when Boris Johnson was Mayor, there was deafening silence from the government when he proposed a less ambitious plan to build 42,000 homes per year in his London Plan.

It has been reported that government officials believe 100,000 to be a more fitting annual target for London. However, in light of their promise to build only 300,000 new homes a year to meet demand for the entire country, this appears to be an arbitrary figure.

In contrast, the Mayor’s pledge in the London Plan is backed by the London Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), an evidence-based method of assessing the city’s current and future housing needs.

The government are desperately trying to distract Londoners from their own abysmal track record on housing since coming into power. While ministers might use Brexit as an excuse for their distraction from pressing domestic issues, it should be remembered that they have never considered housing to be a real priority.

Recent statistics from Homes England reveal a stark picture, showing that the number of government-built socially rented homes has fallen by almost 90% since 2010. We are also seeing local authorities being placed under huge strain by the swelling of council housing waiting lists, compounded by the damaging impact of the government’s Right to Buy policy.

To add to the list, in London especially, we are seeing a burgeoning hidden homeless population with thousands stuck, seemingly interminably, in temporary accommodation, and sleeping on friends’ sofas.

The Mayor has been left to pick up the pieces of their long list of failures, and also those of his predecessor at City Hall. Boris Johnson left zero new social homes funded on his departure, leaving Sadiq Khan to inherit an uphill struggle.

Despite this, in the last year Sadiq Khan built a record number of affordable homes, more in a single year than any Mayor since housing was devolved to City Hall. This includes around 2,500 social rented homes.

If the government really wants to help tackle London’s housing crisis then they need to provide the Mayor with adequate funding.

At present they provide around £700 million per year. But to reach the level of affordable home building the city needs would require around £2.7 billion a year.

If James Brokenshire really wants to help tackle the capital’s housing crisis then it’s the treasury he should be writing to, not the Mayor of London.

Tom Copley AM is Labour’s London Assembly Housing Spokesperson

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