On 2nd November 2017 Julia Park wrote:

APPG for London’s Planning and Built Environment

It was a really good APPG session earlier this week, arranged by Peter Murray and chaired by Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton. The topic was ‘How can we deliver genuinely affordable, high quality homes to Londoners? What can city leaders do to address the crisis?’ Even more pertinent since the new stats released last week show that London needs at least 66,000 new homes per year and that 65% of those need to be affordable. It was a star panel, admittedly biased to the left, but Patrik Schumacher was in the audience and managed to redress the balance single-handedly.

  • James Murray (Deputy Mayor for Housing) kicked off with an overview of the scale of the problem, some of the steps they have taken already and other steps they plan to take. They seem determined to do their best working in partnerships with LAs, HAs and private developers.
  • David Montague (CEO of L&Q) addressed the question 'What is the biggest challenge…’, and cited land supply, funding and skills/capacity.
  • I was next and answered the question, ‘Are we providing the right types of housing to Londoners?’ - clearly not yet, but some really important steps have already been taken (i.e. this team is thinking and shaping policy in exactly the right way) and 'What should we do to deliver affordable housing while maintaining good quality design?’. My case for maintaining quality went down well, though the audience was largely on-side already. I gave a few examples of where things have taken a worrying turn and suggested a number of practical measures we could introduce to diversify typology, enhance quality without spending more and improve affordability – and some areas where policy could do more. It still seems to me that land value is biggest elephant in the room and if we don’t find a way to tackle that, higher densities (clearly a big part of the strategy) will inflate costs even more.
  • Heather Cheesebrough (Director of Planning and Strategic Transport, LB Croydon) talked about their innovative approach to small sites and their own housebuilding company, Brick by Brick. She’s also very keen on design review and bolstering expertise within the planning and housing departments.
  • Helen Hayes (Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norward) was brilliant. She spoke on behalf on her constituents, noting that the average local house price is 16x average wage (the 20th worse multiplier nationally). She chose to focus on how meaningless the definition of affordable housing has become and how this has led to cynicism/despair, and a feeling that the government just doesn’t get it. She rightly said that the definition of affordable housing will mean nothing until it’s related to income and applauded the GLA for introducing the new form of affordable housing based on the London Living Rent.
  • Andy Slaughter (Labour MP for Hammersmith and former shadow housing minister) berated the approach of successive governments, but particularly the 2010 Coalition, and made a business case for more investment in housing and infrastructure.

Too many speakers all with too much to say in five minutes each, so not much time for questions or drinks, but great to hear such a consensus and a fair amount of optimism that the government will have to listen, and act on, at least some of it.