At our Health Committee on 12th August, Health inequalities specialist Professor Gurch Randhawa called for you to review your policies, including housing, in order to inject a greater public health approach into them. Nikki Morris, CEO of Age UK Camden has echoed that call so that you can take into account the mental health issues faced by people during lockdown and Vikki Nash, the Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, believes that housing is “absolutely key” to tackling Covid. Will you review your housing policies in the light of Lockdown?
COVID-19 has highlighted links between health and London’s housing crisis. Too many Londoners live in unsuitable homes and the economic impacts of the pandemic mean many may face increased risk of homelessness. I am proud of our response to immediate housing needs during the pandemic, particularly our work to accommodate those sleeping on the streets. However, the pandemic has reinforced the urgent need to tackle the root causes of the housing crisis. We cannot do this without building more homes. That is why I have prioritised delivering record numbers of social rented and other genuinely affordable homes, over 17,000 in 2019/20, a record. While I have no formal powers over the private rented sector, I am working to improve standards for renters, for example, through my Better Renting Programme.
My London Plan aims to ensure that new social housing helps tackle overcrowding, requiring for the first time that boroughs outline the size mix of social housing needed locally and we are making progress. The proportion of new socially rented homes that were family sized increased from 34% in 2015/16 to 41% in 2018/19. The London Plan is one of the main tools I have to reduce overcrowding and the Government’s delay in approving it is holding back the progress I can make on this issue.
Government policies are also actively undermining our efforts to deliver high‑quality homes. I am astonished that during a crisis that underscores the importance of good quality housing more than ever before Ministers have responded by extending loopholes that allow offices and shops to be turned into substandard micro‑flats without planning permission. London’s housing crisis will never be solved by turning offices and shops into slums. Instead, we need a significant increase in Government funding to deliver the high‑quality genuinely affordable homes that Londoners need, namely £4.9 billion a year, yet Ministers have only offered London £4 billion over five years through the new Affordable Housing Programme. The welfare system also contributes to making housing unaffordable for Londoners with low incomes. By scrapping the benefit cap, the Government could improve options for households that have to resort to cramming into homes smaller than they need.
I am doing all I can to tackle London’s housing crisis. I urge the Government to review its own policies to ensure that we have learnt from the pandemic in ways that can urgently improve housing conditions for Londoners.
We are always reviewing our policies, not just housing but others as well. We actually have not had the London Plan signed off yet, but all our policies are reviewed in light of the crisis. To reassure the Member, the work of the Transition Board and the Recovery Board may also lead to further reviews of the policies that we have.
There will be no formal publication of a review unless one takes place. At the moment, the good news is that there is sufficient flexibility in the London Plan to not need a formal review. It has not been approved yet by the Secretary of State so you could not have a review anyway. As and when the Recovery Board and the Transition Board publish work, I am more than happy to share that with the Assembly, which may not get it otherwise.
Chair, the Member is in danger of putting words in my mouth, heaven forbid. We will have to wait for Twitter to see how it reinvents itself. What I said is we review all our policies, particularly in light of the pandemic. For example, I am more sure now than --
I want to know when he will be publishing this review of his housing policies. You said you were reviewing them constantly. Perhaps you could reveal to the Assembly the state of that review and when you intend to publish the document that outlines that review. The people who particularly want to know this are, of course, the Labour Group, who, along with the rest of the Assembly, are called here to review your housing and planning policies in order to address overcrowding. I am just trying to get from you when that review will take place and what has happened. What have you reviewed?
What we are doing is we are working closely with the Transition Board in relation to a variety of issues that are coming to light as lockdown is restricted. There is a separate piece of work in relation to the recovery, coming out of the pandemic. That looks at a whole host of issues in our city. One of them is reducing inequalities, which is linked with housing. The issues around COVID-19 and the exacerbation caused by it, particularly to BAME communities and other deprived communities, is not just around one area, it is across a number of policies. Therefore, what I would say to the Assembly Member is as soon as the Transition Board finishes its work and as soon as the Recovery Board finishes its work, I am happy to share that with him. If there is a need to formally change any policies in City Hall, of course we will look into that.
The evidence I have so far is that the London Plan, albeit not signed off, is pretty flexible as it is. It addresses a number of these issues. You will be aware, Chair, for example, we are ahead of the curve in relation to our Environment Strategy of preserving the greenspace, and increasing to more than 50% across our city the National Park City Programme. You will be aware, Chair, we are ahead of the curve in relation to addressing obesity; one of the exacerbations is being overweight. I know the Assembly Member opposed me banning advertising of junk food on public transport. It has now been confirmed from experts a public health approach, which is the one we have, is the best way to address pandemics like this one.
These are lovely statements, Mr Mayor. When? Not, “After this, after that”; is it going to be September, October, November, December? When will we see the review of your housing policy?
The Transition Board is work in progress. The Transition Board has not finished its work. It could be some time before it finishes its work. The expectation from [The Rt Hon] Robert Jenrick [MP, Co-Chair, London Transition Board] is that the Transition Board should finish its work before the end of this year. In light of the second wave, I am not sure now that will finish this year. The Recovery Board is ongoing work and will not complete until later on next year. Notwithstanding that, we continue to put pressure on the Government to sign off the London Plan. We still, at the same time, will oppose the Government’s extension of permitted development, which would be catastrophic for quality housing in London. We can do more than one thing at a time. I think what the Member is after is a formal review of our housing policies, which is not happening.
There will be no review of the housing policies despite the unanimous view, including your Deputy Mayor, of the London Assembly Members. Despite the unanimous view of the London Assembly Members, you are not going to review them. Despite the experience people have had during lockdown - the overcrowding, the loss of loved ones, the spread of the disease - you are not going to review your housing policies, is that correct?