Boroughs: we need help to hit housing targets

Monday 26 November 2018

© Agnese Sanvito

London’s boroughs need strong political leadership, money, staff and the ability to work effectively with their communities if they are to get anywhere near their stiff housing targets.

That is according to Robin Cooper, head of regeneration at the borough with the biggest numbers goal – Newham – speaking at a special breakfast briefing at NLA.

Cooper said that the borough had capitalised on the Olympics, with a ‘fantastic park’, international business quarter and a million people going to Westfield Stratford every week. But it was ‘alarming’, he said, that Newham has a housing waiting list of some 26,000 people, 4,500 in temporary accommodation every night, and 200 people homeless, something he hoped the authority’s ‘aggressive programme to build houses’ will aim to help. One of the reason Newham was selected for the biggest housing number – 43,000 houses, 3,850 per year – was that it was ‘incredibly well connected’ via public transport including high speed rail into Kent and, next year, the Elizabeth Line. But it is also home to a major push for jobs, with London’s only Enterprise Zone that means it gets to keep around £1bn of business rates to plough back into infrastructure. By 2027, he added, some £27bn will have been invested in the borough. The four things needed were political leadership, which Newham has with its elected mayor, money in terms of partnerships with the private sector, staff – the planning authority needs 20 new staff to deliver on the opportunity – and the ability to work with community. This last, and the arrival of ballots, was a fundamental and democratic change, said Cooper. ‘I like to think we’re embarking on a journey which will make a fundamental change’. 

Sripriya Sudhakar, team leader for place shaping at LB Tower Hamlets described some of the issues arising from the need to enable dense growth in a diverse borough that has the second largest housing target at 3,511 per year. ‘There is a need for a new conversation about density’, she said, noting that dense growth comes in diverse typologies, not just tall buildings, and new research the borough is engaging with that will include quality of life indicators for high density living, a design guide, and post-occupancy evaluation.

Finally, head of planning at RB Kingston upon Thames Lisa Fairmaner said her borough was ‘right at the start of its journey’ in housing delivery, with no magic bullet. ‘I have no illusions’, she said. ‘It will be a long journey and quite a difficult one.’ At its heart is the community, she said, and there has often been an erosion of trust with the authority having to distinguish between vocal minorities and a shift in community feeling. There was ‘fear’, said Fairmaner, about the New London Vernacular rather than traditional forms, and a different perception for outer London communities and what they see as appropriate.’ 

Cooper, moreover, added during questions that the advent of ballots meant that they were ‘empowering’ local people to have a real say in their environments for the first time. But, with local authorities having had their budgets cut by some 40-50 per cent over recent years, more was required. ‘Unless government puts serious money into this problem, we will not solve it’, he said.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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London’s local authorities play a key role in the ongoing development of our neighbourhoods, and are under greater strain than ever before – contending with huge growth targets, greater demand and fewer resources. Working with the capital’s 33 local authorities, this programme gives a platform for understanding how the central, inner and outer regions of London are accommodating growth, and provides a forum for promoting the future plans of areas undergoing change.