‘Domesday Book’ of London’s Public Land Published

As the London Land Commission releases its debut report, how might the housing crisis be tackled?

As the nation’s housing crisis ensues, the Government remains committed, in rhetoric at least, to meeting its ambitious target of building 400,000 new homes by 2020. It is important that this remains a priority as a significant imbalance between demand and supply continues – planning permission was granted for 250,000 homes last year, but building has started on just 140,000. Nowhere else is this more evident than in London where City Hall and the Boroughs have struggled to identify suitable land on which to build.

The housing crisis is undeniably at its most acute in London, where the population is forecast to rise to 10 million by 2030. It is estimated that houses would need to be built at the rate of 50,000 a year in order to meet this demand, but only 19,500 homes a year have been built during the past decade.

The Greater London Authority set up the London Land Commission a year ago to identify sites owned by the public sector that could be redeveloped, and it released its first report yesterday. It has found that about a quarter of land in London is owned by the public sector, rising to 40 per cent in some boroughs, and at least 130,000 homes could be built on surplus land owned by the public sector in London. This news will be welcomed by both candidates for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), who both see public land as being central to their housing plans.

Zac Goldsmith said that “there can be no doubt that housing is the number one priority” for the future Mayor of London and has therefore committed to build 50,000 homes a year by the end of his first mayoral term. In addition to building on public sector land, he also has plans to introduce a “Londoners First” rule whereby any homes built on mayoral land will only be sold to Londoners – people who have lived or worked in London for at least three years and don’t already own a home. Another commitment outlined in his Plan for London has already been delivered on as he’s been successful in amending the Government’s Housing Bill to secure a deal that means every high value council house sold will be replaced by two new affordable homes in London.

Sadiq Khan has been even more extensive when outlining his housing plans for London. For example, he plans to introduce a new London Homes team at City Hall; develop a new “London Home Bond” to bring in investment; introduce a new “London Living Rent” model of intermediate housing – linking rents to a third of income; and use planning powers to prevent ‘buy-to-leave’ investors from buying homes, and ensure local tenants and first-time buyers are offered first refusal on new homes.

The housing crisis has become such a key issue in the lead up to the London Mayoral election that Generation Rent, a campaign group for those that rent in the private sector,  has created its own website, Vote Homes 2016, to rank each candidate on their housing policies.

The London Land Commission’s report goes some way to help substantiate each candidate’s claims that housing on brownfield sites can deliver the number of homes required. However, the future Mayor of London will have to do more than just follow the Commission’s proposals if London’s housing crisis is to be resolved.

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