Housing policies are ten-a-penny but most only tinker at the edges of the problem with a dismal stew of mixed use, affordable, social, key-worker, and mixed tenure developments, squeezed onto unsuitable scraps of land. In the midst of the current creaking framework HNW buyers are increasingly looked on as an answer to our woes.
One innovation in this respect has been picked up on recently in the press. Planning levies are imposed by local authorities to get commercial developers to fund new roads, schools, and council estates. They are now however regularly being imposed on private prime residential projects.
‘You want a new swimming pool? That’ll be twelve new bedsits down the road then, please.’ A few sub-basements? A contribution to the redevelopment of a whole block.
In this way HNW overseas buyers, so often scapegoated as driving up prices and causing shortages of supply, can in fact be a part of a solution. Harnessed in the right way the arrival of the global super rich in London can be used as a tool to fund the development of some new housing for the poorest.
This is only a partial solution though. Undoubtedly most of this planning money will be directed towards site rather than construction costs. House builders in the South Wales valleys may struggle to make the sale of their new houses meet construction costs, but the problem in London and south-east England is not generally one of expensive bricks and mortar, but unaffordable land. It is a problem of space – space to legally build on.
The development options are essentially build up (towers), build in (density), build out (the greenbelt). Up and in are discussed a lot; less so the build-out option. The Labour Party conference discussed ‘use it or lose it’ laws to prevent major housebuilders reserving ‘landbanks’ and a new system to allow towns to grow out into surrounding NIMBY-ist local authorities. Forget Boris bikes, buses and islands. London needs some Boris boroughs.
London should be rejoicing that it enjoys the attention of the world and the free flow of the prosperity of many nations into its markets and neighbourhoods. Instead we are preoccupied over a housing crisis that simply requires some proper political leadership to solve.
With a new fringe of suburbs out towards the M25, both the unnecessary friction against foreign buyers and the increasingly outlandish measures to get prime resi owners to stump up funds for overpriced public housing stock will dissipate.