By Harry Scoffin
Liberal Democrats, Greens and the Conservatives in the London Assembly urged mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday to put more pressure on housebuilders over the building safety crisis.
Hina Bokhari, LibDem member elected in May who sits on the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee, urged the mayor to weaponise the £4 billion affordable housing programme in grant funding allocation.
“He [the mayor] needs a clear policy of refusing to work with developers or housing providers who have not resolved building safety issues in their existing stock. Such a bold move will give a clear message to developers in our city. They need to take responsibility for these buildings and engage with leaseholders who are in many cases having to foot the bill, often reaching tens of thousands of bills per leaseholder.”
Ms Bokhari praised the Labour mayor for pressuring government to impose a housebuilders’ levy that would spare leaseholders and the wider taxpayers from paying out over the building safety crisis.
But Labour said that using the planning system or other such confrontational measures could end up meaning less social housing.
Leonie Cooper, the Labour member for Merton and Wandworth, urged the Assembly to propose only “realistic solutions”.
“I do have significant problems with where talks about not working with or funding developers or housing associations who have not taken action yet to support their leaseholders. Because here we are simply pitting the needs of homeless families against the needs of leaseholders. That is a very difficult position for us to be in.”
Ms Cooper, who sits on both the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning and Housing committees, added that the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were partly to blame for the crisis after advocating building deregulation under the coalition government.
It is not the first time that London Labour have been criticised for taking a hands-off approach to helping leaseholders and shared owners suffering big remediation bills and mental anguish in the building safety crisis.
Sadiq Khan told LBC radio on June 24 that if developers paid 10 percent of their profits, which he described as “a small fraction”, “that would be billions of pounds that could contribute towards remediating the buildings that Natalie’s talking about”.
When asked specifically about planning or other GLA levers to humble irresponsible developers, Khan claimed “we are using the bully pulpit to do what we can, legally”.
The LBC interview featured Natalie Carter, a leaseholder at Ballymore’s New Providence Wharf, where there was a fire on May 7, who asked the London mayor what he was doing for “the London victims” of “flammable death traps” who face “interim costs for a waking watch, skyrocketing service charges and insurance premiums”.
After social media criticism from leaseholders, Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, Tom Copley, who had appeared on the programme via videolink, made a series of tweets defending London’s policy approach and urging caution at deploying planning against housebuilders.
“Developers would appeal, win, and be no more likely to stump up more cash for remediation. Govt would probably remove the Mayor’s planning powers, meaning fewer affordable homes. So nobody would win: not leaseholders, and certainly not homeless families.”
The opposition motion can be read in full here:
I have to admit that as a Labour supporter I’m stunned by the quotes in the above article from Labour councillors! First of all it’s an extraordinary admission that the planning authority is in fact powerless to do anything but grant approval. It’s alleged that a) it would face an unwinnable legal case and b) the Govt would remove the Mayor’s planning powers. However if a) is true, these powers don’t really exist so their removal would not be a significant loss!
Secondly in most new developments in London (certainly in my borough of Waltham Forest) the percentage of so-called ‘affordable’ homes is 50% at best. Affordable means many things but in housing is often defined as no more than 80% of market value. This is still way, way out of reach of a homeless family – in fact when asked about the increased provision of social infrastructure such as healthcare, WF council countered that only a minority are family units.
What developers want to build is fundamentally at odds with what is needed to solve the housing crisis. And if developers have the whip hand over planning authorities this is never going to change!