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What Zac Goldsmith is promising London

Words: Simon Wicks
Zac Goldsmith

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative Party’s London Mayoral hopeful, has spelt out his thoughts on housing and London’s built environment at a Q&A organised by planning thinktank Planning Futures. Here’s a selection of his statements on issues ranging from affordability to open space.

Affordability of housing

“London is booming. Everywhere, people look out the window and see the cranes whirling. There’s a sense in every corner that it’s passed them by. They feel locked out of their own city, priced out of their own city. And it’s a fact. You can be earning the average London income of £34,500, you are not going to qualify for social housing and you are not able to afford non-subsidised housing. You’re stuffed. This is not the squeezed middle. It matters to London businesses [who are struggling to recruit and retain staff] as well. It will be the defining challenge for the next Mayor.”

Unlocking housing supply

“I don’t believe we are going to solve the housing crisis without dealing with the problem of supply. We can simplify the planning system and we should; but we must deal with supply.

“We need to access land. Housing associations and developers, they will talk about planning and finance, but the one thing everyone agrees on is land. But we have that land. There are huge tracts of public sector land

Naming TfL as a major landowner that is beginning to look at developing its land, Goldsmith went on: “The biggest owner of brownfield land in London is central government. That lands needs to be freed up and made available for development. I believe we have won that argument."

Linking housing with transport

But [released brownfieled land] needs to be connected to the transport network. Transport is perhaps the biggest challenge. If we don’t grow the transport network, we will not solve the housing crisis. Or we destroy the green belt ,which is unacceptable to the vast majority of Londonders.”

The extension of Crossrail beyond Ebbsfleet and the building of a Sutton tramlink would improve access to land for tens of thousands of homes but the biggest opportunity, said Goldsmith, was in Crossrail 2 – about to be determined – which could open up the land for 200,000 homes. “That will be absolutely central to what I will do.”

“London depends almost completely on central government. Seven per cent of taxes raised in London are kept in London. Everything else goes to the Chancellor. I hope we will change that and in time we will see radical devolution.”

Buy to leave

On being asked whether a “residency test” was necessary to prevent overseas investors buying up new homes in London and leaving them empty:

“With private developments there’s a limit to what the Mayor can do and how prescriptive they can be.”

Goldsmith said no-one actually knew how many homes were in this category though he doubted it was as high as some people claimed. Nevertheless, it was a cause of “resentment” that needed to be addressed. If we don’t resolve it, he said, “we will find people experimenting with radical politics as a solution”.

On the issue of developers being prevented from marketing overseas for three months, a policy which wasn’t working, he said: “I’m looking now and will be producing a detailed housing manifesto and how we might extend that to not marketing overseas for six months.

“On land owned by public sector we can be more prescriptive,” he said, citing the Pocket model which limits purchase to ward residents for three months, then borough residents for three months, then London residents and finally everyone.

“Or we can take a leaf out of the Manchester model, where local authorities have created an investment vehicle to attract overseas insititutional investors and pension funds to develop the large scale professional build to rent for people living and working in the area.

“This is not about bashing overseas investors,” Goldsmith continued. “The worst thing that can happen to London is that people don’t want to come here. One of the reasons we are booming is that people do look to London as a place they want to live.

A SWAT team of planners

On being challenged to explain how he would speed up development on London’s 38 “opportunity areas” – particularly in light of the slow, three-year process typically involved in changing the London Plan.

“There’s a massive amount that can be done before those three years are up […] One of the problems is that local authorities are not flexible in their approach. For example, in section 106 negotiations they are not equipped sometimes to get a good deal from developers because they are understaffed.

“There are a number of things they can do differently. For example, section 106 for large-scale build for sale isn’t the same as for build-for-rent. It’s a fundamentally different economic model.

“Local authorities being so understaffed doesn’t work for anyone. [It leads to] unequal competition between developers and local authorities, everything takes longer than it needs to take. I said I would create a SWAT team of planners who can be of use to developers in big opportunity areas all the way across London, for local authorities to deal with problems they are not equipped to deal with.”

Housing associations/Right to Buy

Goldsmith praises the Land Commission and its work to create an inventory of brownfield land.

“If you talk to the housing associations there’s a consensus that the only thing preventing them from building is land. They have plenty of capital.”

At this point he was challenged by a member of the audience who said government policy had stripped his housing association of capital.

Goldsmith replied: “The G15 [the group of London’s 15 largest housing associations]  tell me that the main barrier for them is land. They are willing to commit that even in the context of the new Right to Buy extension they will replace every home they sell with two homes for rent.”

Community consent

“Community consent is essential. If you have to build 50,000 homes a year we are not going to do that by knocking peoples noses out of joint.” Goldsmith argued that good community consultation resulted in better development produced more quickly.

Starter homes

“We can’t price out young professionals, teachers, nurses. They have the challenge of qualifying to get on a list that’s already 360,,000 long. Mixed approaches are required – everything from social housing to market housing and everything in between.

“You need to help people with average to high salaries get on the housing ladder.

The cap on Starter Homes is £450,000. In fact, there are Starter Homes in London for £160-280,000.

“The Help to Buy scheme has helped tens of thousands of people in the process of getting on the housing ladder. Shared ownership for London is particularly important. People on an average salary are now beginning to buy a home.

“I think we need to have homes for all across the board. Otherwise we lose the mixed communitiess that make London a dynamic place to live.

Estate regeneration and densification

Citing research by Savills, Goldsmith said: “Many of the estates from the 50s and 60s have lower density levels now than when they were built. There’s a huge opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of the recent past. Low-rise, street-based higher density developments can increase occupation by 73 per cent.

“The problem is that it’s incredibly political […] I’m excited by the prospect but only where the community gives the green light and people there today will still be there tomorrow in a better home and their rental tenancies unchanged. I know we can do that.”

Green belt and open spaces

“It’s really important that we hold the line. The moment we compromise our green space, we lose it. London has lost an enormous amount of the green spaces that make it special. One the reasons that people want to live here is because of our environment and green spaces. We can do that [keep green space while building houses] as long as we access the brownfield land that we know exits, by growing the transport network.”

“You can create pocket parks. 100 were funded by Boris Johnson and I’m committed to doing that.”

On his policy of building green space into every major new development: “I’m thinking about the likes of the East Village [at the Olympic Park], where they have created effectively a wetland park. It’s a very special community – you can’t tell the different between social and market homes. It’s a real mixed, vibrant community.”

Traffic congestion

“Any mayoral candidate that says they are going to remove it [congestion] is not telling the truth. London is a busy city [so traffic is inevitable]. But we can make greateer use of consolidation centres, so there are fewer HGVs on the road. Bond Street and Westfield are doing this.

“The way we shop has completely transformed in the last few years, but the way in which we deliver the goods is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago. Twenty-five per cent of traffic is delivering packages. We can invest in a proper pan London click and collect scheme [so people can pick up packages on the way to and from work].

“There are too many people competing for too little space. Yes, encourage cycling, but not at the expense of keeping London moving. [I would like to] invest in Boris Bike equivalent for electric cars.”


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