IS HOUSING CATCHING BREXIT?
Housing has undoubtedly rivalled Brexit as the issue with the most column inches over the past week.
Whether it’s the government announcing more funding for housing infrastructure, the Mayor confirming there will be ballots on estate regeneration with Jeremy Corbyn and announcing a ‘first dibs for Londoners' policy on new homes, or TfL unveiling another big site for new homes, it seems that politicians are desperate to show they are really doing something on this critical issue.
Elsewhere, Croydon could become home to the ‘world’s largest modular towers’ and we’re also talking tunnels, with a recap of all the major underground projects currently underway in the capital.
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BETTER HOMES FOR LOCAL PEOPLE
The Mayor has finally unveiled his estate regeneration guidance, which, after sustained pressure from the London Assembly includes the step to ballot residents on major schemes. Better Homes for Local People will require evidence of a positive vote in a resident ballot, before allocations of GLA affordable housing grant are made to estate regeneration schemes. This rule will apply to strategic schemes of over 150 homes (and thus referable to the Mayor) that involve demolition of existing homes owned by a social landlord. The commitment of no net loss of social housing across all regeneration schemes remains. While the ballot commitment has been broadly welcomed by politicians, its conditionality could create unease for local residents at the sharp end of regeneration who remain outside the Mayoral remit. That said, ballots could provide developers working in politically challenging areas a conclusive result, showing a balanced community-led view on regeneration plans, and potentially cutting through the noise some local campaigns can create. One significant question posed is whether the ballot would include those on housing waiting lists, desperate for a new home, or only those already living on an estate. Sadiq launched the guidance last Friday alongside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Barnet, which is the first council to have an estate regeneration scheme called in by the Mayor and has also been identified as a target for Labour in May’s elections. Individuals can respond to the consultation on proposals for a residents’ ballot for strategic regeneration schemes until 5pm on 3 April.
FIRST DIBS FOR LONDON CRIBS
Never one to do things by halves, the Mayor this week also announced plans to give up to one month’s priority to Londoners eligible for affordable housing when purchasing new homes under £350,000 on the open market. UK buyers will also be offered an extra two months before any overseas marketing can occur. The policy will apply to any homes built by housebuilders who have agreed to the voluntary deal, including Berkeley and the g15 group of housing associations. While the Mayor’s plans will likely help support Londoners looking for one-bedroom properties, the relatively low threshold in London terms may be prohibitive for young families needing larger homes. According to Rightmove’s House Price Index (January 2018), the average asking price of a home for first-time buyers in London stands at £483,132 and borough-wise, Barking & Dagenham and Bexley are the only London boroughs with an average house price of below £350,000 based on latest Land Registry data. Alongside this it is not yet clear what the definition of a Londoner is in this context and whether potential buyers in neighbouring local authorities over the capital’s border will be able to access this scheme.
HOUSING INFRASTRUCTURE FUND
Council led housing projects in London are among more than 130 nationally set to benefit from the Housing Infrastructure Fund. The announcement of an extra £866m for the first group of projects brings the total allocation to £5bn since it was first unveiled by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Autumn Budget. In all 12 projects across nine London boroughs have been named, including £10m for transport works in Croydon, £1m for Ealing’s Grand Union Avenue and £10m for Lambeth’s 8 Albert Embankment. According to the Chancellor, ‘this fund finances vital infrastructure such as roads, schools and bridges, which will kick-start housing development in some of Britain’s highest-demand areas.’
NEW TFL SITE
Transport for London (TfL) has announced its search for a development partner on its plot of land so far. Limmo Peninsula, situated in the London Borough of Newham and formerly home to Crossrail’s eastbound tunnel boring machines, has the potential for 1,500 homes – of which 40% will have to be ‘genuinely affordable.’ Although the affordable housing percentage on site is 10% below the Mayor’s own target for publicly-owned land, TfL has asserted its strategic affordable housing target of 50% should be viewed in the round across its entire portfolio of sites. As such, the site will not be subject to a viability assessment as otherwise indicated in the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG. According to TfL measurements on sites brought forward so far, they estimate that 1,089 (44%) genuinely affordable homes can be delivered across 2,485 homes in total. However according to figures obtained from the GLA by Inside Housing, the Mayor expects a delivery of 893 affordable homes across these sites – a figure of 36%.
CROYDON MODULAR TOWER
A deal has been struck which could see construction start on what are being billed the ‘world’s largest modular towers’. Greystar Real Estate Partners and Henderson Park have acquired 101 George Street, a residential site in Croydon, from Tide Construction and plan to build two towers of 44-storeys and 38-storeys. The 550-home build-to-rent scheme, which has full planning permission, will include affordable housing, London Living Rent and rental discounts alongside open market rates. It is expected that construction could start in 2019 and complete in 2021.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE SETTLEMENT FINALISED
Yesterday saw Housing, Communities & Local Government Minister Sajid Javid present the final Local Government Finance Report (England) 2018/2019 to Parliament. As one might expect in a climate of falling funding for local authorities, there were few rabbits and even fewer hats to speak of. However Javid did confirm the department would stump up a further £150 million for an Adult Social Care Support Grant which will be taken from anticipated underspend in existing departmental budgets. Of this, it has been suggested that £23m will be allocated to London boroughs. In spite of its welcome from local authority leaders, it will be short shrift to Conservative-led Northamptonshire County Council, which issued a section 114 notice last week banning expenditure on all services except statutory obligations to safeguard vulnerable people, in part due to the increased cost pressures it has faced through adult social care.
A TALE OF TWO HOUSING PLANS
Sadiq Khan and Sajid Javid may fly the flag for opposing political parties, but when it comes to housing policy, it is similarities not differences that have made us sit up and take notice this week. Javid’s newly-named Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed it is looking to loosen planning rules to promote ‘a new generation of town houses in cities like London and Manchester.’ Proposed changes would allow homeowners to build two additional storeys on existing blocks of flats, houses, shops and offices (on the condition that this is in keeping with height in the surrounding area) – an idea that was also floated by Westminster City Council in its approach to tall buildings in early 2017. The proposal bears similarity to the Mayor’s drive for densification in the Draft London Plan and appears to show Javid’s shared desire to help growing families whilst protecting valuable open space in inner city areas. The new directive on the right to extend upwards within suitable contexts will be included in the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, which is due for consultation early this year.
MPS VOTE TO VACATE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT DURING REFIT
MPs have accepted the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Restoration and Renewal to support a refurbishment programme of the Houses of Parliament at a cost of at least £3.5bn. Rejecting the suggestion that further feasibility studies and costings should be undertaken to examine alternatives, Labour and Conservative MPs came together last week and voted 236 to 220 for both the refurbishment and the need to relocate for the duration (about six years). This ‘full decant’ option, which remains to be endorsed by the House of Lords, was considered to be the most time and cost effective solution to improve working conditions and safety within the rapidly deteriorating complex of world heritage and landmark buildings. It is expected that the Lords will accept the MPs’ vote which would allow restoration work to begin in 2025. The Commons and the Lords are likely to relocate to Richmond House and the QEII conference centre while the works are carried out.
In London there aren’t just cranes in the sky; tunnellers are hard at work below too. The tracks may have been fully laid through the entire length of Crossrail, but construction of the £4.2bn Thames Tideway Tunnel is on-going, and today the London Power Tunnels, another major underground project, was officially opened. The National Grid-led project took seven years to complete and stretches 32km across London, supplying bundles of high-voltage electricity cables that are set to provide at least a fifth of London’s power. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were in attendance to open the tunnels.
SUTTON AND THE SUBURBS
Outer London is becoming more and more of an investment and development opportunity and with the recent publication of the London Plan, the focus is increasingly on the suburbs. Building on this focus,Sutton Council is holding the third in a series of one-day investment conferences, ‘The Code for Growth’, on Thursday 1 March following on from successful events in 2012 and 2014. Central to this is the development of Sutton town centre and the creation of a leading life-science campus, the London Cancer Hub. To register to attend this free event click here.
Dave Hill, former Guardian correspondent for London, has launched a crowdfunding appeal for his website www.OnLondon.co.uk as he continues to build a formidable reputation as an informed and independent commentator on the capital.
100 YEARS OF WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE
The 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People’s Act, which gave some women the vote – at least those over 30 who owned a home or land – is being celebrated across the country this week. The centenary comes at a particularly tumultuous time for the country’s second female Prime Minister, who’s speech marking the occasion suggested male cabinet colleagues could learn something from taking a different approach to politics by prioritising listening instead of broadcasting one’s own views. LCA’s client the Museum of London is marking the centenary with the Votes for Women programme and exhibition – highlighting suffragette militancy and iconic objects from the historical movement including Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strike medal. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also attended the exhibition yesterday, where he pledged to offer a posthumous pardon to convicted suffragettes if elected. Although the right to vote wasn’t extended to all women until 1928, this is a poignant exhibition that serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made for the cause.
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