Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Sean Creighton (SHC 18)

  1.  London's public service and lower paid private sector workers need to have the option of affordable housing in London, preferably near or within easy traveling distance to where they work. Proposals to provide their housing outside London will not be of much use to those on shift systems or who have to start work very early or very late. It will increase the number of people who have to commute into London on the already congested railway network. Developments that create housing for just one type of public sector worker eg teachers or nurses, have the disadvantaged of creating occupational ghettoes, rather than mixed communities, and are therefore not conducive to building sustainable communities. More creative approaches to developing affordable housing in London are needed.

  2.  A number of developments have eroded the supply of affordable housing in London, particularly central London, over the last 20 odd years. One has been the switch of many housing units to office and other business use, eg mansion blocks between Victoria and Westminster/Pimlico.

  3.  It would be helpful to have a strategy which links assistance to businesses operating in buildings that used to be used for housing, to re-locate to new and modernised office blocks, with the buildings they vacate converted for affordable housing. The strategy might include:

    —  provide incentives for business in offices in such property to re-locate to the new office developments being built at strategic places in London, like Paddington, Kings Cross etc, thereby releasing their current office space back for housing;

    —  transfer the ownership of the emptied buildings to affordable housing providers to convert back to flats or houses depending on their size;

    —  link the developers of new offices and other schemes who will have to meet affordable housing objectives into supporting such a strategy by either buying up the released buildings for housing or providing their existing owners with money for conversion or modernisation.

  4.  Another potential source of supply for new affordable housing is through having a much more strategic approach to implementing the Living Over the Shop approach, identifying empty or under-used accommodation above shops and other businesses and working with building owners to develop them as affordable housing units. This has a number of advantages. Increased numbers of people living on a main road will increase the customer base for local businesses. This and the extra money the businesses will earn will make many of them more economically viable. This will contribute to building sustainable communities.

  5.  A third potential source is shops and other businesses operating in run-down shopping parades in which many of the businesses struggle to survive and there is a high turnover of businesses and periods when shop units are empty. In many areas there is a slow market drift to obtain a change of planning use and convert the properties to housing. A strategy could be devised to be more pro-active to ensure that such properties can be used for affordable housing, and to shorten the periods that such parades experience economic unviability.

  6.  The development of such strategies will require a range of organisations and interest groups, including the London Mayor and London Development Agency, the Housing Corporation, local authorities, building owners, social landlords, Chambers of Commerce to work creatively together. There could well be a role for Local Strategic Partnerships to look at the scope for these approaches in their Boroughs, as part of the development and refinement of Neighbourhood and Community Strategies. The approach may also be relevant in some other parts of the country.

  7.  I hope that the Committee will consider it worthwhile questioning organisations chosen to given oral evidence about whether they would be willing to work with others to examine these three pro-active approaches to providing affordable housing in London.

Sean Creighton

14 October 2002

  This note is submitted in a personal capacity, drawing on his experience of housing and planning issues over many years in different parts of London. He is currently employed as Policy Development Officer for BASSAC (British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres).

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