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Housing leaders call for London exemptions to Housing Bill

Tuesday, 08 March 2016

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Central government and London’s incoming mayor could unlock significant housing and place-making potential if they can agree basic parameters for estate renewal in the capital – without resorting to a blanket demolish-and-rebuild approach – according to a group of London’s most experienced housing leaders.

The cross-sector group’s recommendations, collected through a series of round table forums in Q1 of 2016, included: raising the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap to allow boroughs to build more; allowing London exemptions to Housing Bill requirements, including for Right to Buy, starter homes and council high-value asset sales; funding community and employment ‘meanwhile’ programmes for long-term schemes; and reviewing social-housing policy based on economic value.

The roundtable series and briefing, Delivering Estate Renewal in London, were produced by Future of London, with Bilfinger GVA, Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects and Lewis Silkin. They include the views of 60 experienced housing practitioners from the public, private, academic and community sectors.

The briefing comes at a key time for housing in London. Following the Completing London’s Streets report, with its influence on central government policy, three useful reports on housing in London have just emerged: Shelter’s on the potential and realities of building on brownfield land; ULI’s on increasing private rented housing; and the London Housing Commission’s, which called for greater fiscal and planning powers for the capital to set and achieve its own ambitions.

Among these calls for new powers, tenures and land uses, it is worth remembering the value of existing housing estates. In its own report, Savills identified approximately 8,500ha of land on housing estates, home to some 660,000 Londoners. The G15 group of London’s largest housing associations own a further 410,000 homes. Add the other forms of social and affordable housing estates, and it’s clear that estate renewal cannot be dismissed, despite its complexity.

Leadership on estate renewal in London is in a delicate position. Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith said on 24th February that he has an ‘ethical obligation’ to demolish and replace London council estates, while leading opponent Sadiq Khan is against central government’s Housing Bill and may struggle to get a hearing.

As mayoral housing ambitions and consequences emerge, the Heseltine Estate Regeneration panel is also gearing up, and far-reaching central government housing and fiscal policies are starting to take effect.

Estate renewal, among the capital’s best hopes for meeting housing need and delivering good places, risks being pulled apart – and made even less popular – unless consistent approaches can be agreed.

Gerry Hughes, Chief Executive of Bilfinger GVA, comments: “The key to successful estate renewal is to ensure a multifaceted approach and to embark on the process as you would in regenerating any neighbourhood. We advocate taking a place-making perspective but with the added dimension of ensuring that the needs of the residents are at the forefront.

“One should also ensure that delivery is considered from the outset. We are seeing more and more creativity by local authorities in ‎working with the private sector to deliver their desired outcomes. Whilst they may not be appropriate in every instance, joint ventures are gaining traction as an approach to delivery that ensure the best use of assets and which can not only meet the local authorities regeneration ambition, but can also generate both revenue and capital.”

Report contributor Andrew Beharrell, senior partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, comments: ‘’Successful regeneration of London’s postwar estates has been happening for over 25 years, and the public and private sectors have considerable experience of how to balance the aspirations of existing residents with the wider need to deliver more homes for Londoners.

“This process is now under threat from a combination of ill-considered policies, market pressures and social discontent – we need to put aside the ideologies, and find new ways to deliver both local and wider strategic benefits from this important public resource."

Future of London director Lisa Taylor agreed: “This is the moment for London’s housing providers – boroughs, builders, housing associations, their partners and resident representatives – to speak out on obstacles to estate renewal; ways to overcome them; and options for engage effectively with a central government which has prioritised starter home ownership over social renting and with mayoral candidates whose learning curve could be brutal.”

The attached report, Delivering Estate Renewal in London, stems from a roundtable series which invited senior cross-sector stakeholders to recommend workable approaches along the themes of Strategy, Community Relations and Delivery.

The report will be followed up by an 8th April NLA event.