When I worked at Shelter 18 years ago, rough sleeping and homelessness were at an all-time high. The Labour government brought those numbers right down, but the crisis has returned under the Conservatives.
Under their watch, it’s harder for councils to build new social housing and invest in crucial estate regeneration projects. With many housing estates in desperate need of improvement, and thousands of new homes required to meet the needs of London’s growing population, we must adopt a new approach to housing.
No Londoners doubt the scale of the housing crisis, nor the need for action. But it’s clear that winning Londoners’ trust and support for building new homes is crucial if we are going to substantially boost the number of properties we build in the capital.
In cases of estate regeneration, the support and involvement of residents is more crucial than ever. That is why I welcome the introduction of mandatory ballots by Labour’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, ahead of big estate regeneration schemes in London seeking his funding.
Many councils already do a great job consulting residents, developing their trust, and involving them in plans for estate regeneration. But having a ballot makes sure current and future residents will be at the heart of decisions about the future of their estates, and, crucially, can give everyone involved the confidence to proceed with plans.
Estate regeneration across the capital will get harder, not easier, if distrust sets in between residents and landlords. Rather than hampering ambitious plans, successful ballots, as a key milestone in a longer and wider consultation process, can help avoid projects running aground, by securing clear community support at an earlier stage. Put simply, forcing developments through against the will of local communities is not the way to get houses built in the long run.
Of course, on their own, ballots are not enough to make sure residents are involved in plans for their estate. And the Mayor can only directly influence the balloting requirement for those schemes where his funding is involved. But they are part of the Mayor’s wider approach to use his powers to fix the housing crisis and win Londoners’ support for his ambitious homebuilding plans.
London’s diversity is one of its greatest assets and social housing forms the foundation of our city’s mixed communities. It is vital that we protect it.
However, regeneration of social housing should always benefit local communities. too often in the past this has not been the case.
In London, with his introduction of City Hall’s first ever good practice guide to estate regeneration and mandatory ballots of residents, Sadiq is showing what Labour can do in office. But beyond the capital, as Jeremy Corbyn says, Labour is committed to giving residents the right to a ballot across the country.
When we are in Government, we will be able to put local people first, not property speculators. We will deliver real regeneration for the many, not the few.
Sarah Jones is the Labour MP for Croydon Central