Housing and Planning

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 2nd June 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

What impact do you expect Covid-19 to have on planning and housing policy going forward?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you for the question. This pandemic has thrown housing inequality in London into even starker relief and highlighted the urgent need for every Londoner to have access to a safe, good-quality home they can afford. Many Londoners have had to face this crisis without security of tenure in the private rent sector or in overcrowded homes, temporary accommodation or on the streets.

The immediate focus of my team has therefore been to support the most vulnerable Londoners, in particular rough sleepers.  I pay huge credit to Tom Copley [Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development] for the work he has done over the last few weeks in this area.

I have also called on the Government to provide greater support and protections to London’s private renters, many of whom are at immediate risk of losing their homes through absolutely no fault of their own. My London Housing Strategy and London Plan are policies for the long term.  The vision that they support is focused on good-quality, genuinely affordable homes in greener neighbourhoods and that vision remains important and relevant during the coronavirus pandemic as it will afterwards.

It is too soon to determine what the long-term effects will be on London’s economy and on housing need and supply, but we are working closely with partners to understand the wide-ranging housing impacts of this pandemic. In the event of an economic downturn, it is likely that the demand for homes at social rent levels will grow.

My Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley has established a Housing Delivery Taskforce to ensure that together we can emerge from this crisis ready to continue our work to build the homes that Londoners need.

I am working with the Government to publish the London Plan as soon as possible to provide the much-needed certainty to the sector and an extension of the Affordable Homes Programme. It is clear that the vision for London set out in the London Plan and the genuinely affordable homes delivered through my funding programmes are more important than ever. I will tackle London’s housing crisis with an adequate, secure and long-term amount of funding.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Mr Mayor, on 9 April [2020] Karen Buck [MP for Westminster North] retweeted figures from the Resolution Foundation, which revealed that 16% of the families living in lockdown were in overcrowded conditions. In doing so she said,

“Try living through this on the 16th floor with three kids in one bedroom. Or with twins with autism but no garden. Or with mum and dad sleeping on the living room floor so a severely disabled child can have the bedroom.”

This week, [Assembly Member] Dr Onkar Sahota sent you a letter from the Health Committee, which outlined its review of your Health Strategy, which included a recommendation but you should examine your policies on family-sized homes, particularly in the light of COVID-19, to ensure that they match up with the objectives of your health policies. The number of family-sized homes has been declining. Your Housing Strategy removed any targets for family-sized homes and your London Plan encourages the building of those smaller properties that 360,000 young people have been enduring during this lockdown.

Is it not time for you, Mr Mayor, to reintroduce investment targets for family-sized homes?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Firstly, let us be clear. The previous London Plan and the previous Housing Strategy did not have a target for family-sized homes. My London Plan for the first time requires councils to set a mix for the requirement for social housing based on local needs. That is because I recognise we need to have decent-sized housing that is affordable, and that is why it should be based on social need.

If it were the case that we were to have large numbers of market-value family homes being built in London, a large number of those would not be affordable by the family referred to in Karen Buck MP’s tweet. The sort of home that a family needs is a decent-sized home that is available on social rent, and that is why I am requiring councils for the first time to undertake an exercise to work out what their local needs are based on things like their housing needs and how many families they have. That is the way, in addition to our other policies, to meet the needs of those families who desperately need decent-sized homes.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Mr Mayor, we have recently seen figures produced that indicate that most of the overcrowding in housing in London is in socially-rented homes, over which you have some influence. I would like to refer you, incidentally - and I do not particularly want to go through “he said this, you said” stuff - to page 29 of the previous Housing Strategy. That had a very clear commitment to 36% discounted rented homes to be three bedrooms or larger. I do not want to go over the last --

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

Would you ask a question, please?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

That was an aspiration.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Perhaps you would refer me to the aspiration in your Housing Strategy and your London Plan to tackling this crisis. The fact is, Mr Mayor, that you are going to be doing nothing for those very people that Karen Buck MP is trying to represent, those people who came into her surgery. You are doing nothing for them because your London Plan encourages the building of one-bedroom homes. There is no money that goes with the London Plan and it means the boroughs will continue to build those traps and those jails for overcrowded families.

Mr Mayor, you need to revisit this. I am looking for an undertaking, as is Dr Sahota, for you to review your overcrowding policies.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, it is very difficult virtually with a five-minute question and not being given a chance to respond. If I could respond to the various points raised by Assembly Member ‑‑

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Your chance is now, Mr Mayor.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Quite. Firstly, this is the first London Plan that requires councils to carry out an assessment of what their local needs are so that developers, housing associations and others can make sure there are decent numbers of family-sized homes made that are available to those on housing waiting lists.

The reason why it is those who are in council accommodation who suffer the most overcrowding is because of the failure of the successive governments to successively replenish the stock of those homes sold under Right to Buy. I would remind the Assembly Member that for every five homes sold under Right to Buy, only one had been replaced.

The problem is his Government’s because the funding it has given us is disproportionately skewed towards intermediate housing, which is one- and two-bedroom. If he could use his influence over his Government to persuade them to give us funding that helps us fund family-sized social homes, we would be able to do so.

Here is the good news: notwithstanding that over the last three years we have broken record after record with the amount of genuine affordable homes begun in our city which are helping those families, the most recent figures published show that last year we began more than 17,000 genuinely affordable homes. Of those, more than 7,000 were social rent and more than 3,000 council homes. That is just one example of the difference a Labour Mayor is making.

We could do far more with a decent deal from the Government, and that is why I said in my opening that we are now working on the next deal with the Government. If he has any influence over the Government, he should use it to say to the Government, “Use this awful crisis and the potential recession as an opportunity to properly fund council homes”. The cross-subsidy model is not working. We need decent-sized family homes for those on the council housing waiting lists.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Mr Mayor, the 360,000 children living in overcrowded conditions were looking for a Mayor who was going to be with them. What they have is a missing Mayor.

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

Assembly Member Boff ‑‑

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Let me respond to that point, Chair, because I know you are going to be fair and impartial. The point that has been made is that I am a missing Mayor and these children are looking to me for help. That is one of the motivations for the record number of council homes. The last time we began more than 3,000 council homes was in 1982. I was 12 years old. That is the difference I am making to these families.

Also, what these families are looking for is leadership from Conservative Members of the Assembly who have influence over their Conservative friends in the Government. Use that influence to lobby them to give us a decent deal to make sure we can build family-sized council homes and increase the supply of genuinely affordable homes in our great city.