Murray: White paper signals common thinking

London’s deputy mayor for housing, James Murray, believes the housing white paper represents the basis for further cooperation between the government and City Hall in solving the housing crisis.

Murray said he hopes the measures outlined in the dossier would lead to further discussion with government about “the tools London needs to boost the supply of new and affordable homes”.

He is optimistic about the way a number of the policies in the white paper accord with the City Hall’s approach to housing delivery, and described them offering the potential for consensus on a number of key issues. 

Speaking at an event hosted by construction consultancy Bruce Shaw, Murray welcomed the government’s recognition of build to rent as an important measure in boosting development. Built to rent was a significant tenet of the London Supplementary Planning Guidance, released in November 2016.

A further measure to scrap a proposal outlined in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 for at least 20% of starter homes on large developments in favour of at least 10% of affordable home ownership units is also broadly in step with an SPG recommendation for 35% affordable housing (to avoid detailed viability submissions), of which at least 30% must be shared ownership or other intermediate products.

“What has struck me in the nine months since we entered City Hall is the willingness of councils of all political backgrounds, housing associations, developers, and the national government to work with together to address this crisis,” Murray said. “The most important thing is getting new and affordable homes built – the funding deal of £3.15bn for 90,000 affordable housing starts by 2021, announced in the Autumn Statement, shows the benefit to Londoners of different tiers of government working together.”

Murray also outlined his position on a number of key discussion topics on housing delivery:

Green belt development

“The mayor’s position is very clear: he welcomes that the white paper has reinforced protection of the green belt.”

Affordable housing

“One of criticisms of the 20% fixed requirement for starter homes was that local authorities wanted to get more of a mix of affordable housing but the 20% would squeeze everything else out. Developers were concerned that 20% starter homes might have a negative impact on viability. The flexibility is a good step forward and is now an area where our policy more closely overlaps with the government’s.”

Calling in schemes

“Consensus doesn’t mean you agree on everything all the time; it means you agree on an approach. I hope we can mitigate concern that local authorities might have over call-ins by being consistent about where the mayor intervenes. If you look at the two applications, the mayor has called in so far, they are high-density schemes with a decent amount of affordable housing and they are near public transport. Hopefully it’s clear why he has called them in and this helps to indicate his approach.”

Modern methods of construction

“We want to support off-site construction whether through sites we directly control, or through setting up broader frameworks, and the approach the government is taking now to support it means hopefully we will have a discussion about how we can work together to encourage offsite construction.”

Local authority land ownership

“The issue with land can be that councils want to achieve the best social outcome, but feel they may be constrained by best value or best consideration. The white paper does flag that up, but we need clarity.”

When we know the crisis is over

“We have to be honest with Londoners and say this is going to take a long time to turn around. We’re not going to fix the housing crisis in a couple of years – it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

“But we need to start that marathon by pointing in a better direction – for instance, to try and address businesses’ concerns about recruiting staff, to help people on average wages actually buy a home, and to make sure rents don’t take up half of people’s income.”

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