Affordable Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:02 am on 15th June 2005.

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting 10:02 am, 15th June 2005

I am conscious of the 10-minute dictum mentioned by my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson; as she is sitting next to me, Mr. Cummings, I am keen not to fall foul of it. Instead, I shall speak of my experience as a councillor in the London borough of Wandsworth over the past 11 years.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate, I am critical of my local authority. Wandsworth has been a Conservative borough since 1978; it immediately starting flogging the council housing stock, and it has not stopped since. No new council housing has been built since then, and registered social landlords have been given little encouragement to build. At the same time, the council has a specific planning policy of not asking developers to provide affordable housing, and the laissez-faire policy of the planning department has perversely meant that luxury developments are being built in Tooting despite the chronic need for affordable housing.

Two years ago, we fortunately managed to persuade the public inspector to change the council's unitary development plan, so it now includes a requirement to provide 25 per cent. of affordable housing on developments of 15 units and above. The problem is that the units being provided for affordable housing are studio flats, not family homes. Developers have got around the UDP by building studio flats that still meet the definition of 15 per cent. but are not suitable for local housing.

During my 11 years as a councillor, during the election campaign and in the six weeks since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have come across a number of problems. First there is the problem of three generations of a family living in one household, including teenage brothers and sisters who have to share a bedroom not only with each other but with parents and sometimes grandparents.

Secondly, some nurses at St. George's hospital, Tooting, and some teachers at local schools live many miles away, have to travel long distances to work and query what commitment they can give to their local public services. Historically, nurses lived locally to their hospitals and were committed to them; the same went for teachers and their schools.

Thirdly, waiting lists continue to get longer and longer and they do not reflect the true position. Residents have given up hope of registering with the local council because, as was mentioned, the points system is defective. They are also well aware that even if they were on the waiting list, there would be no realistic prospect of being rehoused in the imminent future.

Fourthly, there are residents in their 20s, 30s and 40s living in private rented accommodation who know that they might move on in six or 12 months' time, at the end of their assured shorthold tenancies. They have no community ties or loyalties to the area. I query what commitment their children can have to their local areas, given that they could be moved from their primary schools in the next six to 12 months.

I have already talked about the luxury developments being built; unfortunately, the Mayor's power to stop those is limited. Recently, I have seen examples of tenants in private rented accommodation being charged astronomical rents. They need housing benefit to pay them; they have no prospect of getting employment with sufficient pay to cover that rent, for homes to which they have been directed by the local authority.

Our sixth concern is the lack of a definition of affordable housing. Local authorities such as Wandsworth, which are not given proper advice about how to provide affordable housing, have a huge amount of wiggle room, which has led to their not meeting the needs of local residents. I agree with the Government's view, set out in the manifesto and elsewhere, that many people have aspirations to be owner-occupiers, but many people in London and elsewhere also need rented property. I genuinely and sincerely believe that the affordable housing crisis is a powder keg ready to explode at any time in the imminent future.

What needs to be done? First, we need a definition of affordable housing with a particular focus on rent, not only owner-occupation. Secondly, we need to ensure that any percentage requirements for new builds in local authorities' unitary development plans include family-sized houses. There also needs to be a review of the private rented sector and its relationship with housing benefit and the so-called benefit trap.

Clearly, even more new housing needs to be built in London. Consideration needs to be given to the hidden homes initiative; the six hidden homes in Wandsworth mentioned by my hon. Friend Clive Efford were, frankly, garages in council estates that had been turned back into accommodation.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate for raising this matter and am grateful for the time that we have been given to discuss this important London issue.