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Mayor to resolve housing shortage?
In under one month voters will be electing council representatives and London will be voting in a new mayor. The mayor of London presides over an annual budget of £17 billion and has a duty to oversee the plans and policies that shape the lives of all Londoners and visitors to the city. Matters relating to transport, policing, business and the arts will all figure highly in the new incumbent’s “in tray” but possibly the problems and decisions relating to housing and land will be as important as any.
By 2021 it is estimated that the population of London will have increased by a million compared with a decade earlier. As the population of London continues to expand and house prices continue to spiral out of the reach of most ordinary citizens the need for a co-ordinated and well planned housing policy becomes more and more urgent.
So what do the mayoral candidates have to say about the housing crisis?
The two front runners for the position of mayor are Sadiq Khan for Labour and Zak Goldsmith for Conservatives whilst the other candidates are Sian Berry (Green Party); Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats);Peter Whittle (UKIP) and George Galloway (Respect Party).
The plank of Mr Goldsmith’s housing policy is to double home building to 50,000 a year by 2020 whilst at the same time ensuring that new developments are “in keeping with the local area”. Additionally if he were to become mayor he proposes that Londoners will be given the first chance to buy new homes built in London and ensure that a significant proportion of all new homes are only for rent and not for sale. Outside of his formal policies he had also spoken in the media about providing a “relentless focus” on releasing publicly owned brownfield land for development and putting empty homes back on the market.
Mr Khan has claimed that the election on 5th May is “a referendum on housing” and the plank of his policy is that 50% of all new homes in London will be genuinely affordable to rent and buy. He will also use mayoral powers and land to stop “buy-to-leave” (i.e. any new properties bought solely as an investment and left unoccupied). Like Goldsmith he believes that local first time buyers and tenants should be given the first chance to buy or rent new London properties. Other more radical plans include the establishment of a not-for-profit letting agency to end “rip off” fees for renters and to promote longer term stable tenancies for responsible tenants and good landlords. He will also work with London boroughs to set up landlord licensing schemes and name and shame “bad” landlords whilst promoting good ones.
The plank of Mr Whittle’s policy is a combination of a “brownfield revolution” to build a million new homes on brownfield sites within a decade coupled with a “proper fair and ethical immigration system”.
Ms Pidgeon puts the building of more affordable homes as top of her priority and says that “we can’t rely on the private sector to do this because they haven’t delivered”. She wants to get 200,000 new homes built over the next four years including 50,000 new low rent “council” homes directly delivered by the Mayor. Like Labour she favours working with borough councils to licence private landlords and introduce legal enforcement against bad ones.
Ms Berry has hailed the proposed launch of a London Renters Union as the corner stone of her housing policy. The Union would represent around 1 million households in the city and will be founded and supported by City Hall. “We believe that by working together with existing groups and campaigns the Union could also provide advice to individual tenants facing problems and will give private renters a stronger voice to lobby for new policies from the Mayor, local councils and the government” she claimed.
Whoever wins the problems will stay
Irrespective of who gets elected as mayor, the London housing problem will not go away any time soon – with the average weekly rent nearing £250 and expected to rise to around £285 by 2025; the average house price over £550,000 and likely to exceed £930,000 by 2025 it is obvious that urgent action is needed NOW.