Author: Laura Stuart
The issue of housing in London remains at the forefront of discussions surrounding the capital, and as part of our housing inquiry we continue to look to bring together key individuals than can drive the conversations forward, and put the solutions in place.
Fifty Thousand Homes hosted a roundtable discussion with representatives from the public, private and third sector to understand what they perceive to the be the biggest obstacles to addressing housing supply in London, and how we can better work together to increasing the number of homes.
Ensuring definitions and targets are agreed and understood is critical, as this guides so many development and planning decisions about what actually gets built. Understanding what is meant by 'affordable' is also key, and it was agreed that the definition of 'affordable' needs to be stretched in both directions – understanding what types of homes are needed in London, by whom and where – and ensuring definitions and targets are calibrated to incentivise their supply and encourage innovative approaches.
There was a unanimous agreement that the gap in suitable places to live for households who don't quality for social rent, but who earn below £70,000 a year – the level at which is becomes feasible to buy in London at current prices – was far too big. With average wages in London being closer to £30,000 this provides employers with a huge concern in ensuring they and the capital can recruit and retain the best talent. Equally in the property sector specifically there was a cry for a concerted national effort to invest in the skills that construction industry needs – which considering Brexit is more important than ever.
The theme of trust continued to be raised when discussing how we can increase supply, with both public and private distrusting the other. Local authorities are suspicious of the motives of private sector, while private sector business don't always believe in the competency of local government to deliver on joint ventures. As collaborative working is critical to addressing housing, this perception needs to change – more trust must be built and barriers between sectors broken down.
Our roundtable discussion provided a forum in which to raise why each held this perception and what could be done to begin building the trust. Flexibility at local authority level, particularly around planning, was welcomed, with increased devolution – coupled with deregulation – allowing facilitation of tailored approaches proposed as one way forward. Local authorities setting up their own development companies was also discussed, which removes the issue of land availability as land is generally under local authority ownership, but also brought with it a concern that local authorities lack the expertise around property development. Housing Associations, with their long track record of successful property management, were seen as having a pivotal role to play.
What is clear, is that innovation is vital to addressing housing supply. At its current rate not enough houses are being built, and this will remain the case until we start looking at different methods – innovation is needed in approach, planning, supply models, financing and construction to reach the targets that have been set. Although there is no one-size-fits-all model for this, there are success stories that we can learn from and adapt, and our inquiry will continue to facilitate those who can adapt and implement these learning.
Laura is Associate Director Public Policy at Grant Thornton where she focuses on their Vibrant Economy work