Confessions of a Political Animal

November 3, 2008

The quest for housing apartheid – Part 3: Boris wades in

The Animal has discussed here before the fact that there is some pretty heavy-weight media backing for the continued ghettoisation of London’s housing supply, with a health dose of outrage being expressed at any attempts to provide a more mixed housing portfolio in the wealthiest areas of the city. Council housing in Kensington? Affordable rents in Fulham? Key worker housing in Hampstead? It’s all dangerous socialistic meddling in the free market, I tell you. Socialists! Reds! Run for the hills!

Now we’ve always known that Boris Johnson was a none-too-covert subscriber to this world view. I’m not suggesting he doesn’t wantsocial housing in London – he’s crossed the Cameron Rubicon in that respect – but he has real problems about where it is built. Scrapping the Livingstone aspiration for 50% of all new build housing to be socially affordable, regardless of location, loomed large in the Mayor’s election manifesto. And he has been as good as his word – last week, the 50% target’s death rites were read. Of course, the runes could be read well before then – appointing two leading former councillors from notoriously social housing-unfriendly Westminster to your team of ‘deputy mayors’, including one to the planning brief, wasn’t a great start. Then the Mayor decided to sign off a huge housing development in Hammersmith & Fulham with no provision for affordable rented housing against the advice of his own planning officers.

So last week, Boris outlined his more ‘borough-friendly’ proposals to meet his target of 50,000 affordable homes in London over the 2008-11 period. Interestingly, the documents sent out by the Mayor in regard to this are very open about the first bit of figure fiddling. In the Livingstone-era London Plan, the targets were net, subtracting the numbers of affordable homes lost through sale or demolition. Boris’ 50,000 is gross – so any loss of capacity isn’t taken into account. The point is made that had affordable home delivery been measured in this way, Livingstone would have been able to claim 13,220 new affordable homes delivered in 2006/07 rather than the net 9,209 that was claimed.

Over the course of the past week, Johnson’s team wrote to the chief executives of all the London boroughs to inform them of their indicative target for affordable home building over the next three years. These figures are to be ‘negotiated’ over the next couple of months, with final agreement to be reached with all boroughs by March 2009. And the great thing is, from Johnson’s point of view, without an over-arching target, the remit to supply affordable housing can be engineered to fall overwhelmingly on the poorest boroughs and those run by his political opponents. The table below gives the proposed annual borough output, averaged across boroughs by political control (using the largest coalition member in boroughs without overall control):

Controlling Party Average annual output target
Conservative 371.8
Labour 865.4
Liberal Democrat 435.4
Average (excl. City of London) 526.4

It is pretty clear which boroughs are going to be picking up most of the slack and in what sort of areas Johnson expects social housing to be provided. Inside Housing has already done much of the maths for us (hat-tip Dave Hill) and has worked out that eight out of thirty-three London boroughs are to provide more than half of London’s output, namely Newham, Tower Hamlets, Barnet, Greenwich, Southwark, Barking and Dagenham, Islington and Brent. So, that’s four Labour boroughs, three Liberal Democrats and…er…one Tory borough (out of 16 Conservative-controlled boroughs). And at the other end of the scale, we find that the eight boroughs with the lowest goals (Richmond, the City of London, Bexley, Kensington and Chelsea, Hillingdon, Merton, Kingston, and Enfield) will deliver just 9% of the London total. And guess what? Excluding the irrelevent City of London, that’s five Tory boroughs and two Liberal Democrats). Between them, these boroughs are being asked to provide 4,627 affordable homes over the next three years – over a thousand fewer homes than Newham’s target on its own.

Now I’m not stupid enough to be arguing for an equality of output in terms of pure numbers – of course geographically small and already densely-populated boroughs such as Kensington & Chelsea are going to be building fewer new homes than sprawling boroughs such as Greenwich or Newham. But there appears to be little even-handedness here: Barking & Dagenham is a defiantly outer-London borough, but under Labour control – its target is set at 650 affordable homes per year. But next-door, Tory-controlled and geographically even larger Havering will be required to provide only 292 affordable homes. Other giant outer London boroughs get off very lightly as well – Bexley’s target is 189 homes, Bromley’s 265. Adjacent Labour-controlled Greenwich’s target is 1,098. So at least the ghettoisation in Johnson’s proposals isn’t limited to the poshest bits of inner London, but is set to continue the social segregation of outer London as well.

A further jaw-dropping part of the plans is the blatant rewarding of failure. Livingstone’s approach to boroughs that failed to meet their housing targets was to ‘name and shame’ them: Hammersmith & Fulham was a particular receptacle for his ire. But in calculating the new targets, the Johnson administration has taken into account affordable housing delivery of each borough: and where delivery exceeded the London Plan target, hiked the target up still further. Not a bad thing in isolation, but taken collectively it simply means that there is even less pressure on those boroughs failing to provide adequate levels of affordable housing to up their performance, as their own targets will remain low with slack picked up elsewhere. The Johnson administration’s approach seems to be that a failure to meet the London Plan targets is purely accidental: the attitudes of ruling councillors, borough officers and developers towards implanting social housing in their boroughs has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with it.

So the Evening Standard, purveyor to the London populus of social housing scare stories, can rest happy. There won’t be too many council tenants polluting the streets of Bayswater under Boris’ watch, nor will the burghers of Orpington have to worry that their next door neighbour will be anything other than an owner-occupier. As Monty Python told us, the working classes know their place. Apparently its Newham or Tower Hamlets.



  1. […] at ‘London’s Quality Paper’, aren’t they? Eighteen days ago, the Animal wrote about how Boris Johnson’s affordable housing targets were heavily skewed towards allowing […]

    Pingback by Scooping the Standard « Confessions of a Political Animal — November 21, 2008 @ 9:26 pm | Reply

  2. […] his pledge to fully fund four rape crisis centres in London; pushing anti-redistributionist housing policies completely unsuited to the current economic climate. No, Boris’ key offence for Mr Gilligan […]

    Pingback by Bending the facts, not the buses « Confessions of a Political Animal — December 19, 2008 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

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