The Homes for London report is a must read for those who want to tackle the housing crisis

A must read for all those interested in the housing and planning arena.

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Christopher Worrall is a housing columnist for LFF. He is on the Executive Committee of the Labour Housing Group, Co-Host of the Priced Out Podcast, and Chair of the Local Government and Housing Member Policy Group of the Fabian Society. 

The launch of Homes for London, sponsored by Concilio, was held at a well-attended event at the Fabian Society HQ on Petty France last week. Keynote speeches were heard from the Leader of Greenwich Council, Anthony Okereke; Darren Rodwell the parliamentary candidate for Barking and Dagenham and council leader, alongside Cllr Crishni Reshekaron from Croydon, and former Tower Hamlets councillor Eve McQuillan. The event was organised by Adam Allnutt and Siddo Dwyer. The report is the second published by the Local Government and Housing Member Policy Group’, which had published the report “Homes for Britain: Planning for Growth” last March.

The reports 23 contributions, set out ideas to alleviate London’s housing crisis, while improving the capital’s wider economy, infrastructure, and community. It featured submissions from industry experts such as Russell Curtis, Marc Vlessing, Jamie Ratcliff, and Sarina Kiayani who covered suburban intensification, small sites policy, estate regeneration and fiscal devolution, and housing-with-care respectively. It also featured a contribution from YIMBY favoured journalist, and writer of NIMBY Watch, Jonn Elledge.

Elledge argued in The Case Against Golf for changing protection measures attributed to London golf courses. It chimed with Sir Keir Starmer’s recent announcement to help alleviate Britain’s housing emergency, with proposals to free up grey belt land for building, while making improvements to existing green spaces that will be accessible to the public. All of which will come alongside new woodland, parks, and playing fields.

Jonn echoed the previous work carried out by fellow contributor, Russell Curtis, whose work on the Golf Belt has received widespread support across the industry and YIMBY circles. The recommendations were to review Metropolitan Open Land designations attributable to golf courses, noting his Holes to Homes report that brought the concept of repurposing poorly performing land uses into question.

Elledge argued that repurposing a fraction of London’s golf belt could provide space to house tens of thousands in green and walkable settings. David Milner argued for more extensive transport modelling to be used in planning, to enable more homes on less land, following a report commissioned by Create Streets and Sustrans. Recommendations would enable more homes on less land with more consent.

Labour Housing Group Executive Committee member, Issy Waite, argued for a more inclusive planning system that empowered young people alongside reducing barriers to development for student accommodation. Waite highlighted that the shocking statistic that 89 per cent of young adults have never been asked their opinion on the future of their neighbourhood. While NIMBY inclined minds may think young people are not interested in planning, a survey by Grosvenor of 500 16 to 18-year-old found that 82 percent of young people say they would like to be involved.

Concilio’s Siddo Dwyer highlighted the success of Citizens Panels in Hutt City, New Zealand. Dwyer had found that Hutt City Council utilised representative consultation processes that overcame the self-selective bias of voluntary consultation submissions. The outcome of adopting such consultation methods has led to a 12 to 17 per cent increase in housing consents in Hutt City. With studies showing 90 per cent of these consents were built out.

Dwyer argues Labour can learn from the groundbreaking research from New Zealand, which proves more representative approaches to consultation can empower communities as a whole. Rather than providing a singular platform for opposition. He goes on to suggest this would “correct a major deficiency in the Town and Country Planning Act, namely to behave as a blocker to good progress, rather than a vehicle for it”. Perhaps YIMBYism could be a politically sustainable approach after all.

Proposals to include a corresponding commitment to invest in infrastructure, alongside housing, were made by Cllr Helen Dennis. Eve McQuillan’s piece ‘Save My Pub’ highlighted that licensing reforms should take consideration of the economic and cultural benefits of applications that impact the nighttime economy. She argued that community consultation is important, but “not in the form of late-stage vetoes”. McQuillan cited the fact that 500 pubs closed last year alone, while also highlighting 30 per cent of London’s nightclubs have shut following the pandemic. Her recommendations offered insight into how economic growth from such changes could be harnessed to fund policing and street cleaning.

Cllr Mariam Lolavar showcased how boroughs like Greenwich can use local innovation companies to gain insight into the application of new technologies that benefit towns and cities like London. Researchers from Britain Remade, Jeremy Driver and Ben Hopkinson, provided contributions on how London can use its land better through estate renewal, building in the best connected areas, and utilising underused golf courses. YIMBY Alliance stalwart Kane Emerson delved into the power of proactive estate renewal, while Arthur Fyfe-Stoica recommended that Labour should prioritise high density estate regeneration. Providing a case against the Just Space manifesto recommendations for a presumption against estate development schemes.

Matthew Bornholt presented a scathing attack on so-called “affordable housing”, labelling it a “Failed Thatcherite Policy”, with recommendations that the UK should move away from developer-led Section 106, towards a build-and-tax model focused on social housing. On the theme of social housing, Alex Diner from the New Economics Foundation provided a detailed argument for social housing acquisition with changes under the Right to Buy Back, uprating Local Housing Allowance levels, and a relaxation of the acquisitions cap.

This chimes with Darren Rodwell’s contribution setting out the case for a right to rent, invest, and build. He argued for higher capital spending on homes, public-private partnerships, and a more activist role for Homes England. Anthony Okereke had recently celebrated the acquisition of 33 homes in Woolwich bought by the council, which facilitated half of the properties going to residents languishing in temporary accommodation. Echoing Diner’s call for greater council ability to acquire homes for council housing.

Connor Escurdero, made the call to scrap parking quotas nationally, to help alleviate the air pollution issues in London. As many boroughs outside the capital still retain parking minimums in their local plans. Jo Rattue reinforced the call for planning reform to facilitate Japanese flexible zoning and New Homes Zones that enable proactive land assembly to complement, which had drawn on studies from KPMG and Shelter.

Meanwhile, Ed Keeling set out the rationale for airspace development reform, which included recommendations for mansard infills and small-scale development. By-right extensions, Keeling argues, could enable airspace developers to play a crucial role in tackling London’s housing crisis.

Anthony Breach argued against the 37m² minimum space standard, making comparisons of the logic to setting the minimum wage 50 per cent above the average wage. In these circumstances people would obviously lose their jobs or be forced into terrible working arrangements to keep them. Questioning the rationale for doing this for minimum space standards. Breach also suggests that 37m² is the wrong number and that renters cannot live on the good intentions of planners, but they can live in new flats, even if they are slightly smaller than what we are building today.

Harry McKeown made the case for a more inclusive approach to planning for those with learning difficulties. He highlighted housing developments for people with learning difficulties have recently been refused due to NIMBYism. This has created fewer supported housing options for those with learning difficulties. The result? Far too many not living independently, despite being able to in the right setting. Those with learning difficulties are then often found resorting to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), which he argues are unsuitable for those with greater needs of support.

Russell Curtis reviewed Croydon’s Suburban Design Guide that was adopted in April 2019. He argued the guide provided clear parameters for the transformation of large, land-hungry houses, into efficient mid-rise developments. In short, utilising such design guides allow developers a route to permission in principle if the guidance was followed, but these were scrapped by the incoming Conservative Mayor.

Yet the 5 years of implementation under the previous Labour-led council showed a remarkable impact on housing delivery on small sites. In her speech at the launch, Cllr Crishni Reshekaron highlighted the crisis faced by many living in Croydon, calling for more to be done to improve living conditions and more homes. Finally, my own contribution recommended a London affordable housing density bonus, which would permit policy-compliant affordable housing schemes additional height in order to stack up in viability terms.

Okereke set out in his foreword that the pamphlet sets out “robust and radical initiatives that will make a real difference to people’s lives”, while Concilio Managing Director, Nick Dines, said it was a “valuable addition to the policy debate”. The recommendations provide much food for thought that would complement Labour’s five point plan for growth, which can get London, and Britain, building again. Labour’s modern-supply-side ‘Securonomics’ agenda aligns with many of the report’s recommendations, while offering suggestions for a politically sustainable approach. A must read for all those interested in the housing and planning arena.

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