No, substandard housing is not the answer to the housing crisis. I have said in my draft London Plan and my Housing Strategy how we can deliver the high-quality housing Londoners need through good growth, not growth at any cost. I believe having minimum housing space standards is a vital element of delivering good growth. Not having enough space and living space has a negative impact on people’s quality of life and on children’s social and emotional development. Minimum space requirements and standards are therefore critical to improving Londoners’ health and wellbeing.
Deputy Chairman, Assembly Member Copley’s report, Slums of the Future - Permitted Development Conversions in London, helpfully highlights the consequences of the Government’s misguided approach to permitted development (PD). Not only have office to residential PD rights led to extremely poor-quality housing, it has eroded the stock of viable occupied offices in the capital, contrary to the Government’s stated aim. Because of PD, because it is not subject to planning policy requirements, schemes going through are not required to deliver affordable housing. The report done by Assembly Member Copley stated that of the 15,929 new homes built through PD in London since 2013, shockingly, only 71 were defined as affordable. That is just 0.4%, so I believe the power over these PD rights should either devolve to London, or in the absence of that happening, they should be removed altogether.
Thank you very much for that answer, Mr Mayor. One of the really galling things about this of course is that it is absolutely possible under the former planning system for offices to be converted to flats, but there would then be the requirement that affordable housing would have to be delivered and of course they would have to meet minimum space standards in the report published that you mentioned. The smallest flat that we found was ten metres square in Croydon. That is not a home. That is a box to exist in. One company in Croydon, Caridon, received at least £8 million in housing benefit payments to house hundreds of tenants in flats of that size.
Do you think it is acceptable, not just that these do not contribute to our affordable housing and infrastructure needs, but also in fact that they generate huge profits for landlords at the state’s expense through housing benefit?
No, I do not. I would rather taxpayers’ money be used for bricks and mortar rather than giving profit to private landlords with substandard housing. What we are going to see is a massive transformation in home-building in London and it should be homes that are affordable to Londoners as well.
The Government - the current outgoing Government, anyway - is proposing to expand PD rights so that offices and light industrial buildings can actually be demolished and replaced with a building of the same scale without planning permission. I think, by the way, we have cross-party agreement that we do not agree with these PD conversions.
Can I urge you to impress upon the new Prime Minister and the new Government that we do not want these in London, and at the very least, even if they do not want to get rid of PD rights themselves, at the very least to ensure that they have to comply with affordable housing requirements and they have to comply with minimum space standards?
I will do so, but the good news is every single member of the Conservative Assembly Group, except for one, supports the candidature of Boris Johnson and they probably have more influence over him than I would. I will lobby [potential] Prime Minister Johnson, but I am sure the Conservative Group on the Assembly will also lobby Mr Johnson because it is really important that we have good quality homes built for ordinary Londoners that are fit for their children and grandchildren as well.