The battle for London Mayor: housing takes centre stage

The battle for London Mayor: housing takes centre stage

In less than a month’s time voters in London will head to the polls to elect a new Mayor to replace Boris Johnson.

The backgrounds of the two main frontrunners, Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservatives) couldn’t be any more different, but both have placed a key focus on the issue that most concerns Londoners: housing.

A recent YouGov poll highlighted that housing is the top political issue for voters in the capital, so it is little surprise that it is being put front and centre by the candidates looking to run City Hall.

As usual, lots or promises have been made and policies outlined. Here, we detail what the candidates from the parties who polled highest at the last election in 2012 have to say about this all-important topic.

Conservatives

Zac Goldsmith says he will build 50,000 new homes every year, with priority going to Londoners when it comes to the buying of these new homes.

In order to solve London’s chronic supply side issue, he would free up publicly owned brownfield sites and expand the transport network so previously undeveloped land can be developed on.

That won’t include building anywhere on London’s Green Belt, though. A devoted environmentalist – he was editor of The Ecologist magazine in his twenties – Goldsmith says there is enough land that can be made use of without having to resort to building on the capital’s green space.

Making this land more accessible and easier to build on will, he believes, help to grow the supply of houses in London.

Increasing the provision of large-scale build to rent is another major policy point, while Goldsmith also wants to turn overseas investment – which is currently seen as a negative – into a positive.

He says he doesn’t want foreign investors to be deterred from investing in the capital, but that it must be done responsibly and not to the detriment of domestic buyers.

His position on social housing is less clear. He wants to increase it – although not as much as his rivals – but he also wants to improve the housing that is already there. He is a keen advocate of estates regeneration; something he admits is controversial and contentious.  

His critics say regeneration of this kind amounts to social cleansing, but Goldsmith insists he will “greatly improve areas people are living in without locking them out”.

Goldsmith, a keen fan of low-rise, higher-density housing, says the 50,000 new homes he’s pledged will be built by a mixture of housing associations, local authorities and private investors.

Labour

Sadiq Khan, by contrast, says he will build 80,000 new homes in London each year, with Londoners who are struggling to get onto the property ladder given “first dibs” on shared ownership homes.

Khan, who has called the battle for City Hall “a referendum on housing”, has said he will use the powers he would have as Mayor to push developers into building more socially inclusive houses.

He would also set up “Homes for Londoners”, a team based at City Hall whose job it would be to ensure that half of all new homes built by developers and local authorities are genuinely affordable.  

Khan has also promised to crack down on “Buy to Leave”, which involves wealthy overseas investors buying up properties that they then leave empty. He says that properties must be marketed to Londoners first before they are marketed abroad.

Like Goldsmith, he has pledged not to build on the Green Belt, instead concentrating on land that already belongs to the public (especially land owned by Transport for London).

From a rental perspective, Khan plans to create a not-for-profit letting agency for the whole of London. This would include guaranteed tenancy of up to three years and rents that only increase in line with inflation.

Khan has made much of the fact that he was born on a council estate and has promised to invest heavily in social and council housing.

Greens

An advocate for a more creative, innovative, community-led approach to housing, Siân Berry says housing needs to be seen again as a basic need rather than a commodity if London’s housing crisis is to be solved.

She is a staunch defender of council estates, and a sceptic of Conservative plans to regenerate these. A private tenant herself, Berry would set up a tenants’ union (which every London tenants would automatically be a part of) and encourage community self-builds, cooperatives and co-housing projects.

Her most innovative idea is to renew the Olympic precept and put it towards housebuilding instead. This, she says, will fund the building of 20,000 new homes without the call for a rise in council tax.

Lib Dems

Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate, also wants to renew the 2012 Olympic Games precept and use it for housebuilding purposes. She promises to build 50,000 council homes that are genuinely affordable, as well as a further 150,000 homes for private rent, private sale, intermediary and rent-to-buy.

She is a firm believer that housing shouldn’t simply be left to the “market” or private developers. With this in mind, she would set up a housing company through the Greater London Authority (GLA) to construct homes for Londoners. She would also set up a construction academy to aid this goal.

In addition, she wants to create a London-wide registration scheme, roll out licensing across the capital’s private rented sector and set up a City Hall-run letting agency for newly built private homes.

So there we have it. On May 5 London will decide and we will be able to see if the promises and pledges made in the campaign are acted upon by the new incumbent in City Hall.