Saturday 11 July 2015

We've Negotiated 510 New Affordable Homes In Our First Year And Won £52.15 Million More For Residents On Deals H&F's Former Conservative Administration Had Already Done But The Government Needs To Act To Help Tackle The London Housing Crisis

Tackling the London housing crisis needs to be a key priority for all parts of government. My fellow Labour councillors and I argued for that in our manifesto last year and since being given the opportunity to lead Hammersmith and Fulham Council we have so far negotiated with developers and housing associations to ensure that 510 new affordable homes will be built. And we're in negotiations to deliver more.

Changing the nature of H&F Council's relationship with developers away from what it had been under H&F Conservatives was critical to this. Unlike our predecessors: we do not take hospitality from property developers; we publish meetings with developers on the Council's website; and on occasion we invite residents to attend and take part.

Where we could, we re-opened property deals Conservative councillors had already agreed with developers and we renegotiated them. By last summer we had won £16.2 million in extra funds. Now that figure stands at £52.15 million.

That extra money paid the largest ever number of council funded police officers to be put on Hammersmith and Fulham's streets in the Borough's history. And the rest is being used to build 231 new affordable homes and to buy and to rent.

Our first new deal with a developer went to the planning committee some weeks ago. We negotiated just short of £100 million for the Borough. That will be used to build another 279 new affordable homes to buy and rent. That’s a better deal than any other deal done in this borough in recent years.

Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the government used to provide millions of pounds in grants specifically to build new affordable homes. That was abolished by the last Conservative/Lib Dem government.

So now, negotiating a fair deal with developers is essential to ensuring we have any funds to build new affordable homes. The London Mayor's London Plan says that forty percent of new developments should be set aside for "affordable housing".

But there are too many property firms who play the system. They wrongly claim their schemes will not sustain anything but a little and sometimes no affordable new homes. Viability reports are at the heart of this scam. So it’s not uncommon during some of our tougher negotiations for me to take a developer’s viability report and drop it into the bin. The BBC's Sunday Politics programme featured our approach in this video and the Guardian refers to it in this informative feature.

Apart from removing funding, it is evident that the government does not understand what is happening to the London property market. Government inspectors often get it wrong accepting developers' viability assessments at face value thus robbing the public purse of millions of pounds that should have gone to pay for vital infrastructure and services. And the government have made disastrous changes to the planning system that are simply not appropriate for London. That includes changes to Permitted Development Rights, Local Development Orders on Brown Field Land and Vacant Building Credit all of which reduce the ability of borough councils to secure important funding and affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the West London property market continues to resemble an international gold rush with developers and speculators from around the globe reaping returns that often exceed what could be earned in hedge funds and other high return investments. With Hammersmith and Fulham at times seeing the fasting rising land prices in the country developers are literally scouring the borough looking for sites that might allow them a share of this bonanza.

And even the term "affordable" has been twisted when used as the government's definition for housing as that definition includes too many homes that are simply unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners.

All this makes finding a good home in London difficult. At one end people in their twenties and thirties struggle to get onto the property ladder and (as Shelter says) face spending a lifetime living in expensive and often unsuitable private rented accommodation.  At the other end of the problem there are record numbers of people undergoing the personal calamity of finding themselves homeless. Surely we as a country can do better that that...

I understand and support the need for businesses to make a return on their investment but developers need to do their bit and help deliver the necessary homes Londoners can afford and need.

My fellow Labour councillors and I tell every property developer who seeks to negotiate with us, that this new administration serves at the pleasure of the record 22,163 borough residents who hired us to represent them. We have a very clear job specification to build "homes for residents, not overseas investors" and to "put residents first, not property speculators".

Good developers recognise that we needs homes for some residents at social social rent, we need other types of genuinely affordable housing and we need genuinely affordable homes that residents can buy to get themselves a foot on the property ladder. We now need the government to do the same and work with us to face down the challenges and do everything we can to help tackle the London Housing Crisis.

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