Britain needs decent homes for everyone. The Tories won’t offer that

02 Mar 2015
David Cameron’s much-trumpeted speech on housing contains little that is new and nothing at all to meet the reality of this country’s housing needs. And, as a prospective candidate for mayor of London, I could not help but notice that he proposed nothing to help with London’s particular housing crisis. It is almost as if he has written London off as a source of votes.

His signature new policy is a proposal to allow private developers to build 200,000 “starter” homes at a 20% discount for first-time buyers. But this idea does not bear any scrutiny. There are issues about the build-quality of such homes. But crucially Cameron proposes to fund them by eliminating the requirement under planning legislation that allows councils to insist on a proportion of social/affordable homes.

This would be a disaster for Londoners. We know that in 2010/2011, the majority (62%) of affordable housing nationwide was built as a result of these sorts of planning agreements with developers. Cameron’s proposal means that Londoners would lose all prospect of such homes. Instead, their only prospect of getting on the housing ladder would be his starter homes. But private-sector housing inLondon, even at a 20% discount, is way out of the pocket of most ordinary Londoners.

As Shelter points out, “People struggling with their housing costs will be worse off, not better off”. And the social cleansing of London would accelerate even faster. For the rest, Cameron’s housing speech simply recycles existing government policy on planning, “right to buy” and “help to buy”.

However, sad to say, Labour’s housing policies do not go far enough either. It will be good to ban unfair lettings fees and legislate for three-year tenancies. Building 200,000 new homes each year by 2020 is a noble aspiration. But it is not enough.

If I were London’s mayor I would be calling for action on secure tenure and decent standards. Too many families live in insecurity and squalor that should be unacceptable in 21st-century Britain. So I would upgrade the London Rental Standard, make it mandatory and campaign to outlaw no-fault evictions. I would drive up standards by working with boroughs to introduce London-wide landlord licensing. Crucially I would build on the work of visionary borough leaders like Robin Wales in Newham and support boroughs in introducing tough London-wide enforcement scheme. Rogue landlords should not be able to escape enforcement by slipping over the border to a non-enforcement borough.

Unlike the Tories, who want developers to be able to evade all responsibility for affordable housing, as mayor I would use my powers to veto any planning application that did not match or exceed either a 40% affordable homes quota or an equivalent contribution to a London Homes Fund.

I would press for local authorities like London to have the power to introduce rent controls. If Manchester can have control of the health service surely London ought to be allowed to implement rent controls? I would also set up a rent board, chaired by the mayor, to implement and monitor the chosen methods. There are many possibilities, including the pressure group Generation Rent proposal for a landlord tax on landlords who choose to go over an agreed London living rent.

Above all I would be a champion of building public housing. This would mean: campaigning for local authorities to be able to borrow to build; supporting councils who wish to build and using the mayor’s direct funding to build social housing.My vision of London is a city of opportunity and hope. Essential to that vision is the right of all Londoners to a decent home. Cameron’s proposals do not begin to offer that. As London’s mayor I would campaign for just that.

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