With new Mayors in London and Bristol, Ross Hayman looks at how they plan on tackling the growing housing crisis in their two cities…
New city Mayors swept to power in London and Bristol this month, both winning decisive majorities after promising a new approach to house building.
In Copper’s recent ‘Attitudes to infrastructure’ research, the public identified building more homes as the second most important infrastructure priority for the country. On a local level, housing came in the top three investment priorities in terms of infrastructure. So housing, in particular affordable homes, is certainly an issue at the forefront of people’s minds.
But the housing shortage is nothing new, and previous administrations of all colours have tried to crack the nut with varying degrees of success. So what’s new this time, and can it really work?
In Bristol, new Mayor Marvin Rees has made housing his top priority. He moved swiftly to create a new cabinet post for Homes, making fellow Labour councillor and housing expert Paul Smith his first appointment.
Smith’s first act was to remove 80 hectares of publicly-owned land from the market and announce the setting-up of a new council-owned company to oversee housing projects across the city.
In addition, a new “Bristol Bond” will allow local people to invest in city housing schemes, to help the Mayor hit his target of building 2,000 new homes a year – including 800 affordable – by 2020.
Smith is already asking local communities to identify areas for redevelopment in their neighbourhoods, promising to promote brownfield sites across the city, use legal powers to bring empty homes back into use, end council tax subsidies for owners of empty properties, and encourage “alternative” initiatives like co-housing and communal living.
So far, so radical. Smith is passionate about his mission, saying that if Bristol gets this right it could be a beacon for every town and city across the UK in solving the housing crisis.
But Bristol’s task is dwarfed by the challenge facing London. Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor, describes the capital’s housing crisis as “the single biggest barrier to prosperity, growth and fairness facing Londoners today.”
Khan wants to build more than 50,000 homes a year, at least half of which should be affordable – and by “affordable” he means they must cost a lot less than the Government’s figure of £450,000, which he says is way out of reach of most Londoners.
Like the new Mayor of Bristol, the new Mayor of London is creating a new mechanism for delivering this eye-watering target. His idea is Homes for Londoners, a new alliance between City Hall and London’s councils, housing associations, developers, businesses and residents, to build consensus and opportunity as well as bricks and mortar.
The plan is to build extensively on publicly-owned land, like in Bristol, with a focus on properties for rent or part-rent that will be “genuinely affordable” with many offered at a “Living Rent” rather than the previous administration’s “Affordable Rent” – which was 80% of private market rent.
Khan’s radical, vote-winning policy is what he calls “first dibs for Londoners”; putting local people at the front of the queue for the new homes, to try to stop properties being snapped up by investors and left empty while prices rise still higher.
The big question now is: will it work? In both London and Bristol, the new Mayors have put their heads on the block within days of being elected by putting housing as their top priority.
If they succeed in their ambitious plans, they will be lauded across the land. But if they fail, they can expect to be turfed out without ceremony at the end of their five-year terms.
Only time will tell…