Government Threatens to Block Mayor’s 'Disappointing' London Plan

Sadiq Khan makes 'no apology' for wanting to deliver 'genuinely affordable housing'

Sadiq Khan’s plan for home-building in London is “jeopardising housing delivery” according to the Government who say they will block sign off until changes are made.

The Mayor’s new London Plan will set the planning framework for the capital for the next two decades, setting the tone for the number and types of houses that are built.

Mr Khan submitted his final strategy for the Government to green light in December – but ministers have the power to block it if it doesn’t align with national policy.

And responding to his proposals on Friday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said Mr Khan’s record on housing has been “deeply disappointing”.

London needs 66,000 new homes a year as the population grows – but under Mr Khan’s leadership just 37,000 have been built annually on average.

In a letter to the Mayor, the Secretary of State said: “One may have sympathy with some of individual policies in your plan.

“But in aggregate this approach is inconsistent with the pro-development stance we should be taking and ultimately only serves to make Londoners worse off.”

Mr Jenrick said Britain needs to build “more, better and greener homes” and stop “unnecessary urban sprawl” to protect the countryside.

He added, “Housing in our capital is simply too important for the underachievement and drift displayed under you Mayoralty, and now in your plan, to continue.”

The average price of a new build home in London was £515,000 in 2018 – fourteen times average earnings.

And since housing starts fell 28 per cent last year, that figure is only likely to increase, the Secretary of State claimed.

He said, “Everyone should have the chance to save for and buy their own home so they can have a stake in society.”

But Mr Jenrick’s letter made no mention of social housing – the tier of affordable housing designed for those on the lowest incomes.

City Hall uses three definitions of “genuinely affordable” housing:

  • Shared ownership schemes to help private renters get onto the property ladder by buying part of their home
  • Living rent, which cannot be more than a third of average incomes in the area
  • And even more heavily discounted social rent, the Mayor’s preferred option.

Last year the Mayor built more social housing than any time in the last 34 years. He has consistently advocated for more funding for this tier of affordable build from Government.

But in his letter Mr Jenrick said the Mayor has shown the wrong priorities with “empty threats” of rent controls in the capital.

Announcing his campaign prior to the delay to this year’s Mayoral vote, Sadiq Khan vowed to make the election a “referendum on rent controls” – and called for Government to devolve the power to cap rents.

But the Secretary of State’s letter instead demands that the Mayor falls in line with Government policy.

Mr Jenrick said the Mayor’s current plan “actively discourages ambitious boroughs” from building more homes.

He said the plans contained “unrealistic assumptions” about the number of homes that can be built on small sites.

Last year, the Government’s independent planning inspectors said the Mayor had overestimated the number of homes that can be built on small sites in London.

It advised him to round down his build target from 66,000 to 52,000 homes a year as a result.

At the same time, the Secretary of State said major housing projects – including the UK’s biggest regeneration scheme at Old Oak Common in west London – have “stalled”.

Mr Jenrick said the Mayor should adopt a “more proportional stance” on building on industrial land – scrapping plans for no net loss of so-called brownfield sites – so more homes could be started.

The Secretary of State is also demanding regular meetings between City Hall and Government officials, and quarterly reporting on updates.

Cllr Greg Stafford, Conservative Opposition Leader in Ealing borough where a significant number of tower blocks are being planned said, “The Secretary of State is only saying what all Londoners already know; just like on transport and crime, Mayor Khan is a failure on housing and his policies are making the crisis worse.

“The need is for family-sized homes, yet, he continues to allow the overdevelopment of 1-bedroom properties. The housing shortage keeps driving prices up, while his incompetence has meant the loss of millions of pounds investment, not to mention homes being built.”

But a spokesperson for Mr Khan accused the Government of a “heavy-handed approach” and said more powers should be devolved to the capital.

He said, “The Mayor makes no apologies for trying to deliver genuinely affordable housing in the capital while at the same time protecting and enhancing the Green Belt.

“The Secretary of State is trying to run roughshod over the Mayor’s efforts to finalise a London Plan, which will deliver for Londoners and deliver on pledges from the Mayor’s manifesto.”

Jessie Matthewson - Local Democracy Reporter

March 17, 2020