The Next London Mayor Must Get Serious on Londons Capacity

Zac Goldsmith in the Telegraph

We need to ramp up our efforts to meet these housing challenges. And to do that, we need to consider planning, land and finance. Planning is a political problem, solved by a mayor working with local authorities.

There is no shortage of land. For one thing, a large portion of the Fifties and Sixties housing estates in London are reaching the end of their lives. There are 3,500 such estates in the capital: if only a fraction were redeveloped to produce low-rise, high-density streetscapes we would generate enough new housing to cater for our needs for many years. It would take time, and existing communities would need to be thoroughly on-board and protected.

But that’s just a start. The Mayor and Government have launched a land commission for London, to identify all publicly owned brownfield land. It is expected to uncover vast swaths of the capital that could be developed. We know, for example, that Transport for London alone owns the equivalent of 16 Hyde Parks.

Of course everyone says there is ‘more then enough’ bownfield land ‘ if only we can unlock it’ – the ability to get serious about unlocking it is a mark of whether you want to solve the housing crisis or merely make it worse by postponing tough decisions.

Take the Land Commission – the government should have been doing this for years through the National Land Use Database, and the fact that land is publicly owned does not mean it is suitable, available or viable.  Take the Tfl landholding, few public bodies are doing more to sweat their estate.  Their is no magical hidden capacity here just tracks, depots sidings and stations in the main.  Like everyone else who studies it there is capacity there but not enough.

More promising is the post war estates.  Again when studied in detail they will dissappoint.  These are mostly wartime bomb sites and so small other than in the carpet bombed areas of south central and East London.   To redevelop areas of four storey housing you’ll be looking at 9-12 stormy development to be viable and probably 15 if you have to include sub basement parking to accommodate the extra units.  Hardly ‘low rise’  those Boroughs that are trying to do this, like Lambeth with the Cottomore Estate, are facing massive political opposition and charges of social clensing.  Without a massively publicly subsidise and centrally government subsidised bulldozer this will only at best deliver a few thousand extra units, and in the short run demolition driven strategies reduce capacity.

It is deeply dissappointing that London unlike every other major city in the UK is not having a mature and evidence driven debate about how much its housing need is and how much of it will overspill.  Largely because the Mayor of London is unique in not being bound by the discipline of a binding inspectors report requiring their plan to be sound.  When the new Mayor produces their revised London plan I expect to see a costed, programmed and outlines on a map programme for which sites are to be redeveloped at higher densities and where.  If not hes or she will just be adding to London’s housing backlog.

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