Truly Affordable? Reflections on the Draft London Plan

From ambitious targets to tentative affordability, Z2K Policy Director Marc Francis reflects on the housing promises and pitfalls of the Mayor's new draft London Plan

Marc Francis, Policy Director

So many of Z2K’s clients are either homeless or trapped in expensive private rented homes that we always try to take opportunities to respond to consultations on policies it is claimed will tackle London’s housing crisis.  Before Christmas we put in a written submission to the Mayor of London’s draft Housing Strategy.  And over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on Z2K’s submission to the Draft London Plan.  As its name suggests, the latter is vitally important.  It sets the policy framework by which the Capital’s growth will be managed and planning applications decided.

This new Draft London Plan is certainly an improvement on the current one, especially in its target that half of all new homes in London should be genuinely affordable.  However, that’s not to say we don’t have concerns about some of the proposals.

Perhaps surprisingly for some followers of our work over the years is our fear that the proposed target of 65,000 new homes a year will drive even more of the over-development we are already seeing in some parts of the city.  Sixty-five thousand new homes is around twice the number being built in London at the moment, and three times the number built in most recent years.  We worry that the pressures the planning applications for these extra houses will impose on individual Boroughs will simply lead to a further deterioration in design quality, as well as adding to the intense pressures on open space and ultimately the Green Belt itself.  We believe that, for the moment, the Mayor of London should stick to the target of 50,000 new homes a year set out in his draft Housing Strategy.

Less surprisingly we are also concerned about just how affordable some of the proposed housing is really going to be.  We welcome the Mayor’s decision that his “London Affordable Rent” homes will the based on the more traditional social target rents which were the norm up until 2010.  In practice, this should mean they will be set at about one-third of market rents – a big improvement on rents of up to 80 per cent of market rents that have been the case with most homes funded by City Hall since 2011.  However, we are not convinced the Plan ensures enough of the “affordable homes” will be this model.

That is partly because the Mayor is allowing the continuation of the broken Shared Ownership model, which is having to be targeted at households in incomes of up to £90,000 a year because few Londoners on middle-incomes can afford it.  And he is also expanding his London Living Rent model, which offers private tenants sub-market rents – and a bit more security of tenure – so they can save up a deposit to buy somewhere.  Z2K is far from persuaded either of these approaches should really be classified as genuinely affordable housing or benefit from public subsidy.  We appreciate that many people do want to own their own home, but would prefer the Community Land Trust model, pioneered by Citizens UK and co. on the site of the former St Clements hospital in Mile End.

Z2K also worries whether the Mayor’s proposal to only insist that 30 per cent of new affordable housing is London Affordable Rent and another 30 per cent “intermediate” is right.  This leaves individual Boroughs the power to determine the remaining 40 per cent locally.  While the draft Plan suggests the presumption will be that this 40 per cent will be London Affordable Rent too, we feel the list of potential exemptions outlined, particularly the terms “viability constraints” and “mixed and inclusive community”, will become loopholes both in Local Plans and individual applications.  If the Mayor is determined to allow some degree of local flexibility, this should be a maximum of 10 per cent, and that should only be agreed where it can be shown enough social housing is coming through to meet real need.

Only with these changes, will the London Plan really deliver for Z2K’s clients and the Capital’s homeless and overcrowded families.

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