Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Mayor of London, Greater London Authority (HPB 28)

Housing and Planning Bill

Overview

1. The Mayor welcomes the aims of the Housing and Planning Bill. London is experiencing a housing crisis, with a desperate need to build substantially more homes and help many more Londoners into homeownership. Achieving these aims requires radical solutions and the Mayor welcomes the Government’s commitment to major reviews of housing and planning systems to get more homes built and make better use of existing stock.

2. The Mayor particularly welcomes the introduction of Starter Homes for first time buyers, the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants, the strengthening of his strategic planning powers, and measures to enhance boroughs’ abilities to crack down on criminality and poor standards in London’s rapidly growing private rented sector

3. London’s unique governance structures, devolved powers, and particularly acute housing need must be fully recognised in the Bill, and the Bill must build on the Mayor’s existing responsibilities and ensure the capital has the resources, powers and flexibilities needed to tackle the housing crisis. In particular, it should:

· Ensure that the new Starter Homes policy works well alongside existing affordable homes programmes in London;

· Ensure that each high-value council home sold in London is replaced by at least two affordable homes in the capital;

· Place on public bodies a duty to co-operate with the new London Land Commission to identify and bring forward public sector land for housing.

· Ensure that the Mayor’s strategic role in housing and planning is maintained and strengthened.

4. This written evidence deals with the issues as they appear in the Bill, not necessarily in order of priority for the Mayor.

Starter Homes

5. The Mayor supports the Government's commitment to increase homeownership through its new Starter Homes scheme. In London the homeownership rate has been declining since the early 1990s. Today, fewer than half of London households own their own home, despite the vast majority of them wishing to.

6. The Mayor has put homeownership at the centre of his own housing plans, with more than 52,000 people helped onto the housing ladder since 2008 through his 'First Steps' intermediate housing programme. First Steps offers part-buy, part-rent homes to working households, including key workers such as teachers and police officers, who would not be prioritised for traditional affordable housing but would struggle to buy on the open market. The average income of a household purchasing through First Steps last year was £37,000, broadly in line with median household incomes in the capital.

7. Part-buy, part-rent products like shared ownership are extremely popular amongst low- to-middle income Londoners because of its relatively low cost of entry: the median deposit paid by a shared ownership purchaser in 2013/14 was £13,200, compared with £66,089 paid by a first time buyer for an open market property.

8. As currently defined in Clauses 1 to 7 of the Bill, there is a risk that Starter Homes in London could displace much of the capital's supply of shared ownership properties. The Mayor’s London Housing Strategy sets out a commitment to help 250,000 Londoners into homeownership through shared ownership. The Mayor would like Starter Homes to be additional to existing intermediate housing products rather than replacing them - thereby increasing the overall proportion and choice of low cost home ownership products in London. To ensure that Starter Homes work alongside existing intermediate products, the Mayor calls on the Committee to consider how the policy should best be delivered in London, recognising the Mayor’s devolved strategic housing and planning role.

Database of rogue landlords and letting agents

9. The Mayor strongly welcomes the measures in Part 2 of the Bill to improve the private rented sector, which is home to more than 2 million Londoners. In London considerable progress has been made towards professionalising the sector through the Mayor’s London Rental Standard, with an estimated 140,000 properties now managed under these higher standards, and over 300 letting agents signed up in the capital. The Mayor wants to continue to strengthen this role, and access to the new database of rogue landlords proposed in the Bill could help by improving the links between the statutory local authority enforcement system and the voluntary accreditation system.

Vacant high value local authority housing

10. The Mayor agrees that councils should sell more high value homes to fund increased affordable housing supply, but is clear that any money raised in London should be reinvested within London to fund new housing where it is most needed. Overall, there needs to be a net increase in new affordable housing in the capital resulting from the sale of high value council homes, with at least a 2-for-1 replacement commitment required to help address the severe shortage of homes in the capital.

11. Research commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) suggests that on an annual basis around 4,400 housing association tenants in London could exercise the Right to Buy, that about 3,800 to 4,500 council homes would need to be sold to finance the scheme. The money raised in London is expected to contribute around half the costs of extending Right to Buy nationally. These estimates are all sensitive to assumptions on the exact design of the policy but give a sense of the likely impacts as it is currently framed.

London Land Commission

12. The Mayor welcomes the Government’s continued support for the London Land Commission, which is identifying publically-owned assets in the capital with aim of unlocking significant additional housing supply. The Mayor believes the Bill represents an ideal opportunity to introduce a new clause to give the Commission the resources and powers it needs to do its job most effectively, specifically:

· Public bodies that own land in London should have a duty to co-operate with the Commission by maintaining an up-to-date written record of its property and making this fully accessible to the Mayor;

· Public bodies should also give the Mayor the opportunity to acquire (at ‘best consideration’ or a lower value with the Secretary of State’s consent) any surplus land or buildings before disposing of it.

Planning in Greater London

13. Clause 101 enables the Mayor’s ‘call-in’ powers to cover a wider range of development by allowing the Secretary of State to identify schemes that should be referred to the Mayor in specific areas identified through the London Plan or a borough development plan document. This will allow the Mayor to take a role in ensuring appropriate development is granted permission in key development areas, something he strongly supports.

14. However, it is not clear how the Mayor would identify the geographical boundaries of these areas in the London Plan, as this is currently not permitted to include maps. The Clause should therefore also include reference to the Mayor’s Supplementary Planning Guidance so that these areas can be clearly defined. The same Clause also paves the way for the devolution of direction powers on wharfs and sites lines, which the Mayor welcomes. The Mayor also welcomes the provision in Clause 101 to increase his powers over decision-making in designated areas, but believes these additional powers should also extend to plan-making.

Permission in principle

15. Clauses 102 introduces a new route to planning permission for certain sites: permission in principle followed by technical details consent. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power, by a development order, to grant permission in principle for sites allocated in qualifying documents. It would make sense that, because an application for technical details consent is an application for planning permission, it will be covered by the Mayor of London Order 2008 and thus schemes of potential strategic importance will be referable to the Mayor. The Mayor would welcome confirmation of this in the Mayor of London Order.

16. If such schemes are not referable to the Mayor, this could have significant implications on the Mayor being able to carry out his strategic planning role. The Mayor supports the principle of streamlining the planning system that permission in principle is seeking to achieve, but the potential implications of this approach for London are unclear until the detail of the development order and related regulations is known. To ensure the Mayor can carry out his strategic planning responsibilities, the power to make a development order in London should be devolved to him.

Registers of brownfield land

17. Clause 103 paves the way for Local Planning Authorities to be required to compile and maintain a register of brownfield land suitable for housing. The Mayor believes that he should have a formal role in this process across London, building on the Mayor’s existing conformity role, the work of the new London Land Commission and his role in coordinating the London-wide Strategic Land Availability Assessment.

Poorly performing local authorities

18. Clause 105 allows developers to apply directly to the Secretary of State where a local authority has been identified as a poor performer. In London, developers should be able to apply directly to the Mayor instead. For Section 106 agreements, where the Mayor has taken over the application to become the planning authority, the duty to consult with the local authority and other relevant interests should be limited to once. In addition the power for the Government to intervene where a London borough has failed to produce a Local Plan by 2017 should be devolved to the Mayor, reflecting his strategic responsibilities in the capital.

Nationally significant infrastructure projects

19. Clause 107 allows the Secretary of State to grant development consent for housing which is linked to an application for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Previously housing has been excluded from this power. It is important to ensure that the Mayor has a role in such decisions in London.

Compulsory purchase etc

20. Part 7 includes many measures to streamline the compulsory purchase order (CPO) process. The Mayor supports this ambition and would like the Government to go further. He has asked for the GLA and Transport for London (TfL) CPO powers to be aligned, so that either can undertake a CPO which involves both transport and housing – currently TfL is restricted from undertaking a CPO that involves housing and the GLA is restricted from undertaking a CPO that involves transport. The Mayor is also calling on the Government to consider granting him stronger CPO powers in areas adopted as housing growth locations following the statutory London Plan process.

Background

21. The GLA Acts and the Localism Act 2011 devolved strategic responsibility for planning and housing in London to the Mayor of London, and his statutory London Housing Strategy and London Plan set out his strategic vision for building the homes that London needs. London’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate, having passed its previous peak population of 8.6m and is projected to reach 10m by 2030. This growth, and a thirty-year backlog of undersupply, requires a substantial increase in housebuilding.

22. The Mayor has set an objective of building 49,000 new homes a year, effectively a doubling of current supply. He has already expanded support for low and middle income working households in London, and is on course to meet his target of 100,000 affordable home completions by 2016. Over 99% of the developable public land transferred to the Mayor’s ownership in 2012 has either been developed, is in the course of development, is contractually committed or is currently being marketed. Flagship new programmes in partnership with the London boroughs, such as Housing Zones and the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation, will accelerate new house building and help more Londoners into home ownership.

November 2015

Prepared 17th November 2015