The London Riverside Plan: Just a drop in the ocean?

Plans to facilitate the creation of thousands of new homes along the River Thames are all well and good, but has the Mayor of London actually succeeded in easing London’s housing crisis?

Last week Boris Johnson announced plans for the creation of thousands of new homes along a 12-kilometre stretch of the River Thames.  The draft 20-year London Riverside Opportunity Area Planning Framework sets out the planning, regeneration and design guidance that, it is hoped, will lead to the creation of 26,500 new homes and up to 16,000 jobs across the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, and parts of Newham.

The Riverside Plan identifies 38 Opportunity Areas across London to provide space for new housing and commercial buildings.  Barking and Dagenham was one of the boroughs selected, with forecast population growth of 32.2 per cent in the borough in the next quarter century. It’s fitting then, that 10,000 homes are to be built in the borough at the Barking Riverside development alone.

But with London’s population booming and some estimates suggesting the capital needs around 63,000 homes to be built annually to meet its housing deficit, these plans appear to be just a drop in the ocean.  If built, the homes outlined in the draft plan would form but a small fraction of the thousands of homes needed to meets London’s growing population.

The announcement of the Riverside plan raises the question of Johnson’s performance as Mayor when it comes to housing.  There is much evidence to suggest Johnson and his team have failed to fully address London’s housing crisis, especially when it comes to affordable and social housing in the capital.

Only a third of the new homes needed in London annually are being built at present. Though the number of more expensive “affordable rent homes” being built each year has risen sharply, the Mayor looks set to miss his four year target of building 55,000 more affordable homes between April 2011 and March 2015.

Moreover, the number of new cheaper “social rent” homes has also more than halved – down from 11,370 in 2011/12 to just 3580 in 2013/14. This, combined with the fact that housing prices have risen by almost 50 per cent since Johnson was first elected as Mayor of London in 2008, have helped fuel claims that Boris’ London is only for the rich.

However, this picture is too simplistic.  To his credit, Johnson is on track to deliver more than 100,000 affordable homes over his two terms in office, which is more than were built in the previous eight years.  In 2014/15, we are also likely to see the highest number of homes built since 1980, with 18,950 affordable homes set for completion by the end of the financial year.

It’s also important to bear in mind that the housing crisis and the lack of cheaper housing in London is a long-term problem, one that has gradually built up over many years.  Some may suggest that Boris has not succeeded in dealing with London’s housing deficit, but he’s made progress, and has delivered more homes than his predecessor, Ken Livingstone.

The London Riverside Plan sets out an ambitious vision.  But with Johnson more than likely to be elected as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in a few short months and the end of his second Mayoral term rapidly approaching, the work to move forward the strategy that the Riverside Plan sets forth will fall to his successor.

Whether or not the guidance outlined in the Plan becomes a reality is an open question.  One thing is certain, though; whoever takes over the mantle from Johnson will have a difficult path ahead, both in realising the full potential of the Plan and in tackling the capital’s housing crisis.

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Photo Credit: Diamond Geezer

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