Housing for London ……

06 Dec 2018

The last London breakfast of 2018 investigated the shortage of housing in the Capital and the important role the outer boroughs must play in delivery. Building more housing in the outer boroughs makes sense, but new developments and communities need to be resilient and adaptable.

The panel of speakers from the public and private sector, expressed the importance of involving local people in the development of local areas, creating diverse communities and providing housing that meets the needs of the people who want to live and work there. Ensuring there are a range of tenures, that homes are genuinely affordable and there is the infrastructure in place to meet the needs of the community and encourage further investment.

The session kicked off with an insightful 20:20 market bytes presentation by Tony Travers, Director at LSE London, about the scale of the opportunity in the Outer Boroughs. With lower housing and living costs, London’s future almost certainly lies there.

• Outer London is four times bigger than inner London and home to five million people. Some of the boroughs are the fastest growing in the UK in terms of population and have a bigger economic output than some cities elsewhere in the UK. • Barnet and Croydon are heading for populations of 500,000 and that means they’ll be bigger than many cities across the country. The GVA of Hillingdon (£12.3bn), Hounslow (£10.5bn) and Barnet (£9.4bn) are higher than Sheffield (£11.3bn), Liverpool (£10.9bn) and Newcastle (£7.6bn). • If Outer London were populated at inner London densities it could house an extra nine million people. Outer London has a more balanced economy than inner (and certainly central) London.

Councillor Clare Coghill, Leader of the London Borough of Waltham Forest, kicked off the panel debate, she said: “So many other parts of Inner London have effectively reached capacity and it is the duty of Outer London boroughs to play our part in the future success of the Capital. In terms of housing supply, what people really need is choice. A variety of options and tenures to suit their needs. London is a 24-hour city, so what do you need to feel like a 24-hour city, you need young people to be able to live there.

“When it comes to development and opposition to schemes, it is really important to listen to the community and keep communication channels open. The property and construction sector do a lot of great work but don’t always communicate about it. Use the hoardings to talk about the positive difference you are making to the community, talk about the contribution you are making to local schools, GP practices, the number of people you employ on site, the apprenticeships you are generating. Communicate the values of the development to local people.

“When tackling a question about building on the Greenbelt, Clare said: “There’s no appetite from City Hall to build on Greenbelt land. However, there is a movement to look at the Greenbelt as a whole. Some of the areas marked as Greenbelt aren’t green fields with cows grazing, they could be old car parks, so we need to look at this on a case by case basis.”

Professor Sadie Morgan, Director at dRMM and NIC Commissioner continued to discussion around building sustainable communities that work for all, she said: “You need leadership, ambition and a good plan. I am consistently surprised by the lack of plan. You need the devolved powers, the money and the support to make projects happen and for the benefit of the community. That’s where the connection is missing. We are struggling as a country to connect the dots and connect the regions together. We need spatial plans and we need strategic plans, along with creative thinkers who join the dots in the process.

With regards to opposition from the public to new developments, Sadie said: “Rarely people complain about the number of houses, it’s the lack of infrastructure – people feel a new development will put more pressure on school places, and access to GP services. They often don’t feel there is a plan for social and hard infrastructure.

“When creating new developments and regenerating areas, it’s all about improving the quality of life for people. If we cannot improve the quality of our infrastructure, then I wonder what we are doing. Quality of life isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about the fact that your new home has great aspects, you feel confident you won’t have to wait weeks for a doctor or be unable to get a school place for your children. It comes back to having a solid plan that you can share with the community. Ask people what matters to them. We all want the same thing – building superb communities that are resilient and adaptable.

Talking about the Greenbelt, Sadie said: “People are happy to give something up if they believe something better is coming their way. Breathable cities with more green space and public realm really delivering. People will feel happy to give up corrugated iron sites for development that really delivers for them.”

Lyn Garner, Chief Executive of London Legacy Development Corporation gave an overview of the scale of the Olympic Park regeneration project in Stratford.

“The planning areas at the Olympic Park are about 1,200 acres in size, with half of that parkland. The target is to build 24,000 homes and 6,500 homes have been completed already, including the conversion of the athlete village.

“There is a high need for affordable and family housing in the four boroughs that neighbour the park – Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Hackney. The Park is contributing to the delivery with Chobham Manor 75% family units, about 800 in total. However, the three-bedroom flats on site aimed at families have not sold well, and so we are revising our plans to encourage more families to move here.

“I think we’re facing unique economic and social circumstances now. We’re seeing a bigger and bigger gap between the haves and have nots and people want a say on what their future might be. That’s about the idea of inclusive and good growth. To ensure we deliver an inclusive plan, we have a youth panel and a park panel of our current residents and residents outside of the park, to reach out to people. We must ensure the developments we are involved in do benefit people, and that requires good leadership, great political leadership. We need to pay attention to the problems and issues that people raise. Get to know residents and give empathy.

Richard Blakeway, Chair of BexleyCo Ltd, spoke about the importance of infrastructure and Build to Rent as a tenure, he said: “The borough of Bexley has the longest River Thames frontage of all the boroughs - 1,000 acres of underutilised and industrialised land. The challenge is too often that we focus on Inner London and then we leapfrog outer London to places such as the Home Counties. That is partly driven by the transport infrastructure we have. I’m struck by how deep the Crossrail route goes into Berkshire and hardly touches the sides of outer London. We should be extending the line into Kent and Ebbsfleet, for example. Do that and you substantially unlock the opportunities.

“There is tremendous housing pressure in Bexley. Community engagement is critical in ensuring people are on the journey with us. There is real opportunity to do great things for the places within our borough, but it all must be improved and supported with better infrastructure.

London Government clearly works best when there are strong partnerships. In Bexley, we are looking at a site in Abbeywood to offer Build to Rent. Build to rent is great because it offers rapid placemaking potential and can be the right tenure for a range of people. It could make a big difference to the public realm in Abbeywood. It also gives councils an opportunity to generate income in today’s economic climate.

  However, there are challenges when it comes to Build to Rent. Firstly, Build to Rent is increasingly seen as a premium product, and secondly, what is the right trade off with affordable housing pressures. Procurement and best value are a challenge to unlocking public land. Unfortunately, Councillor Darren Rodwell was unable to attend, so Tony Travers stepped up to join the panel.

Tony Travers talked about the opportunities available in Outer London and how to unlock them, he said: “There is years and years of land supply in Outer London. Putting in more infrastructure is key to unlock land, it doesn’t have to be more trains and light railways, it could be guided buses and all the other things we don’t do enough with, but we should, to open these areas up. As when and if autonomous vehicles appear, they are going to open all sorts of parts of outer London, not seen yet.

If you live in a big city where the population is growing, people will accept something else. Outer London can do things better – create more open spaces, work with different types of build, create recreation facilities and amenities. In conclusion, it was an insightful and lively panel debate, which highlighted the opportunities and challenges ahead. A great way to end the year. See you in 2019!