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Mayor urges ministers to back council home building for London’s Covid recovery

by Mark Fitt Political Journalist
21st Oct 20 12:54 pm

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has urged ministers to back his ambition to address London’s inequalities in health, wealth and happiness by empowering boroughs to build more council houses.

Launching a major new report, he has called on the Government to “stop blocking the aspiration of London’s councils to build”, and to give the capital the funding and powers needed to build large numbers of new council homes.

Increasing the number of genuinely affordable homes – particularly council homes and homes at social rent – has been the Mayor’s number-one housing priority. Last year 3,300 new council homes were started in London – the highest number since 1983 – but the Mayor has warned that achieving his ambitious targets will only be possible if ministers back him, and councils, to deliver.

In order to deliver the council homes London so desperately needs the report, released by the Greater London Authority today, is calling on Government to undertake several key reforms to make it easier for local authorities to build. These include:

  • legislating to allow councils to purchase land compulsorily more cheaply,
  • setting aside more Government-owned land for council housing and
  • committing to a decade-long funding plan for council homebuilding and removing counterproductive restrictions on use of Right to Buy receipts.

As Sadiq’s landmark £1bn ‘Building Council Homes for Londoners’ programme enters its third year, new research from City Hall has identified the three key challenges faced by councils wishing to build more homes and suggests what can be done to overcome them. The areas identified were:

  1. The supply and acquisition of suitable land by councils on which to build affordable homes
  2. The funding crisis facing many local authorities after years of austerity
  3. Increasing the levels of skills and expertise available to councils, many of which are starting to build council homes again for the first time in decades.

The Building London’s Future report examines each of these areas and makes suggestions for actions that can be taken by the Mayor, councils and Government for a dramatic increase in the supply of council housing in London.

All these issues have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which is why the Mayor has put fresh investment, developing new skills and new methods of construction at the forefront of his plan to ‘reboot the London housing sector’ in the wake of Covid-19.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “I’ve put new council housing at the heart of my ambitions for our city, and I’m proud that last year councils across London started more new council homes than in any year since 1983.

“As we grapple with the impact of coronavirus, it is more important than ever that we address our city’s inequalities and build the good quality council homes that future generations of Londoners will be proud to live in.

“The fantastic reaction to our ‘Building Council Homes for Londoners’ programme showed there is a big appetite from councils to build the homes Londoners so desperately need. Ministers now need to stop blocking the aspirations of London’s councils to build, and give London the funding and powers we need to build new council homes at scale.

“There’s been huge progress in recent years, but I know we can do more. We’ve laid the foundations for a new era of council homebuilding to be at the heart of our post-Covid recovery – it is now up to ministers to back us to deliver.”

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing & planning, said: “Council housing has a crucial role to play in addressing London’s homelessness crisis and in supporting the capital’s economic recovery.

“Boroughs are determined to keep increasing the number of new council homes and other forms of affordable housing. We’re enthusiastic supporters of the government’s ‘build, build, build’ agenda – but ministers could do much more to boost resources for council housebuilding and empower us to deliver affordable homes at even greater scale.”

Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of London Borough of Waltham Forest: “With the support of the Mayor’s Building Council Homes for Londoners programme Waltham Forest has been able to deliver its most ambitious Council Home Building programme in a generation – we have 203 council rented properties on site now, with more to come, delivering much needed affordable homes for our residents.

“We believe that Council home building has a crucial role to play not just in providing great places for our residents to live, but also in helping in our economic recovery by driving local investment and creating jobs for local people.

“Now more than ever we need all public sector partners to work together to realise these opportunities.”

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Leader of the London Borough of Enfield: At Enfield our ambitious programme of 3,500 new council owned homes is desperately needed to address the acute housing pressures we face with one of the highest levels of residents in temporary accommodation in the United Kingdom.

“We bring forward schemes that the market would not otherwise deliver including a high proportion of family homes and accessible housing.  We also innovate with different housing products to meet the needs of our residents – for example our Intergenerational housing competition which has brought forward creative solutions that help to address social isolation of older people.”

Hakeem Osinaike, Operational Director of Housing at Brent Borough Council said: “The need for truly affordable housing in London cannot be overestimated. Councils’ waiting lists are far too long and too many households are in temporary accommodation.

“There is great enthusiasm and ambition within Councils to address these issues and this report, which I am proud to be a part of, identifies the support we need to make this ambition a reality.”

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