THE BLOG

The Housing White Paper Is Good News For London

07/02/2017 15:38 GMT | Updated 07/02/2017 15:38 GMT
Tim E White via Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin famously remarked that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. After living in our capital for 20 years he might also have subscribed to the observation of a contemporary, the poet William Shenstone: that nothing is certain in London but expense.

That's certainly the perception of Londoners when it comes to our property market, with the cost and availability of housing the number one concern for many people living in the capital.

The average London home made its owner £22 an hour during the working week in 2015 - considerably more than what average Londoner was earning. That may sound like good news if you own a property, but for those who don't it means the dream of owning a home isn't just distant, it's getting further away.

The truth is we're the victim of our success. Our city is a cultural and economic powerhouse, a magnet for talented people and the most visited city in the world. In 2015 the population passed its 1939 peak, and it's now expected to hit 9 million by 2020, and 10 million by 2030.

I believe such phenomenal strength should be celebrated rather than resented, but only if we deal with the extraordinary strain being placed on the capital's housing stock.

There are many ways this pressure can be managed, but there's only one way it can be relieved - by building more homes, and doing it quickly. And yet that achievement has proved elusive for every government since the 1970s.

As a London MP, I see the consequences of those failures every week in my surgeries. Young people forced to live in their parent's home until well into their 30s, couples renting in the private sector and struggling to save for a deposit, and families living in overcrowded conditions. Worst of all, there are far too many people who can't find anywhere to live at all.

They need our help, and that's the purpose of the Housing White Paper we have published today. It recognises the current system simply does not work, and it explains how far-reaching reforms will significantly increase the number of homes we build, both in the short term and for many years to come.

The good news is we're not starting from scratch. Under my predecessors house building has recovered from the record lows we inherited in 2010. Almost 900,000 homes have been delivered, annual house building have increased by 30 per cent, and more people are getting on the property ladder in London thanks to schemes such as Help to Buy and the reinvigoration of the Right to Buy.

However, while these solutions have been successful, they haven't gone far enough. You can't transcend a major problem by tinkering around the edges. That's why the White Paper covers the whole house building process.

The problem is threefold. Many local authorities are not planning for the homes that are needed, house building is too slow once permission has been granted, and we are far too dependent on a small number of large developers.

We'll be consulting on a new way for councils to calculate housing demand so it actually reflects housing pressures. Local areas will need to produce a realistic plan and review it at least every five years to make sure enough land is released for new homes. We'll also ensure homes are built intelligently. Located in the right places that are well served by public transport, and not built at low density where there is a clearly a shortage of land.

Councils will be able to insist developers get building within two years of securing planning permission, and developers will have to be more transparent about their pace of delivery. At the same time we'll target government cash and support at smaller builders and those using modern construction techniques, so we end the current situation where 60% of all homes are built by just 10 companies, using methods that haven't changed much for the past century.

These reforms will apply to the whole country, but London is the place where the housing shortage is most acute. High demand and low supply is creating opportunities for exploitation: unfair terms in leases, unreasonable letting agents' fees and landlords letting out dangerous, overcrowded properties.

So while the White Paper will focus on the issues that prevent adequate house building, improve safeguards for families in the private rented sector: banning letting agent fees, driving the worst landlords out the market and encouraging longer tenancies.

These are practical steps to help Londoners, but the major task will be building more homes, and doing it quickly. Boosting housing supply will be a challenge for decades to come, and it will only be met with the close cooperation of the people who run London. I hope to meet the mayor shortly to discuss how we can work together to do what's needed.

The work starts today, and as the Minister for Housing and Planning, as well as for London, I am determined we get this right. So Londoners get the homes they need, and our capital remains the world's premier city.

Gavin Barwell is the Minister for Housing and Planning, and London, and Conservative MP for Croydon Central