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London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

The race to replace London Mayor Boris Johnson has entered its final few days, and like never before, housing is the primary issue that may determine who gets to run the capital for the next four years.

The latest survey of 2,062 adults carried out by ComRes has found that housing is the number one concern for Londoners ahead of the upcoming London mayoral election.

It represents a shift from the 2012 election, when Londoners placed housing fourth in order of importance, after jobs, crime and transport.

Adam Ludlow, senior consultant at ComRes, said: “While this poll could not be compared directly to the one carried out four years ago, the relative shift in the priority given to housing would seem to suggest people see it as more important now.”

Mindful of the fact that housing is now the biggest issue for Londoners, the leading London mayoral candidates have put it at the core of their proposals, with front-runners Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate, and Zac Goldsmith, for the Conservatives, both calling the election a “referendum on housing”.

Stephanie McMahon (below), head of research at Strutt & Parker, commented: “The emphasis on housing from all the candidates is not unexpected, with the lack of affordability one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of London.”

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

London housing crisis

London is struggling to cope with the worst housing crisis for generations. A chronic shortage of properties continues to drive house prices upwards across the city, with the latest figures revealing that approvals for much needed new homes in the capital plummeted by 64% over the year in the first quarter of 2016.

The London New Homes Monitor by Stirling Ackroyd reveals that consent was granted for 4,230 homes across London in Q1 2016, down from 11,870 during the corresponding period last year.

Planning applications from developers also dropped by 51% annually to 7,050 potential new units. The report said 39% of homes were rejected by London’s planning authorities in the first quarter, representing an approval rate of six in ten - well down year-on-year from 82%.

“It’s a sluggish and disappointing start to 2016, which should be a year of real progress,” said Andrew Bridges (pictured), managing director of Stirling Ackroyd. “In an election year, the most frustrating side to the slow pace of planning departments is that London has the drive, capacity and ability to take control of its housing problems.”

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Historical data

Based on historic data it would seem a Labour mayor would be better for aspiring London homeowners, as under Ken Livingstone (below), Labour oversaw an increase in housing stock of 186,000 dwellings, compared to just 152,000 under Boris Johnson, according to analysis from eMoov.co.uk.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

However, where property prices are concerned, research shows that Ken Livingstone's time as mayor saw house prices in the capital increase by 89%, compared to 113% nationally. Whereas Boris Johnson’s time as mayor has seen a 41% increase in the capital, compared to just 30% nationally. 

“Historic data doesn’t lie and so this research shows it’s pretty clear cut on who to vote for, depending on whether you’re an aspiring or existing London homeowner,” said Russell Quirk (below), founder and CEO of eMoov.co.uk.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

World peace

The phrase “solve the capital’s housing crisis” is to London politicians, what “world peace” is to Miss World contestants, according to Saul Empson (pictured), a director at Haringtons UK.

In other words, “a vague hope that gets trotted out, without much possibility of meaningful action behind it,” he said.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Empson believes that with demand for property in London growing rapidly, owed in part to high levels of net inward migration, housebuilders simply have no chance of building anywhere near enough new homes to satisfy the number required.

“If someone can find somewhere in London to build more like 250,000 new homes in and around London that are affordable, then they will solve the capital’s housing crisis. Otherwise, they won’t,” he added.

Edo Mapelli Mozzi (pictured), CEO of Banda Property, thinks that there is more than enough land available in the capital for residential development.

“There is enough land in London, including vast swathes in the east, to solve the housing crisis and reduce upwards pressure on prices, but it requires imagination,” he said.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

“The new Mayor must make these sites viable so developers can produce more homes, or regardless of their policies on affordable housing and giving Londoners first refusal, prices will move further out of reach,” Mozzi added.

As a housebuilder, Bob Weston (below), chairman and chief executive, Weston Homes, naturally wants to see significantly more residential properties built in the capital, but insists that we need to have a “sensible look” at where new homes can be delivered without having to “concrete over the green belt”.

He commented: “We need to have a sensible look at where new homes can be delivered without having to concrete over the green belt. We need to look at more places on the edge of London. Take Dartford –it’s only 34 minutes from London Bridge and at £330 per square foot – it’s a place where real people can afford to live.”

Weston (below) would also like to see more areas of outer and commuter London opened up by improving transport infrastructure.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

He added: “Crossrail unlocked lots of sites that were previously unviable. Both Sadiq and Zach are behind Crossrail 2 which is a must if we are going to ease the supply shortage.

“I would also like to see more government owned land sold – not just to the highest bidder – but to those building homes that are affordable to real people. If we can get the land cheaper, we can sell cheaper.”

Excessive regulation

Even if far more land is made available to build the volume of homes required in the capital to meet insatiable demand from buyers and renters, the housebuilding sector is still burdened by “red tape” and far too many “layers of hierarchy to get anything done that is meaningful”, according to Vivienne Harris (below) at Heathgate.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

She pointed out that Boris Johnson (pictured) has tried to do more to boost housebuilding levels and even with the reforms to permitted development from office space to residential, “new homes are sadly lacking”.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Harris added: “If you are asking who is more likely to come up with a sensible solution then I would say Zac Goldsmith, who although, has never struggled to earn a living or been part of the general masses, he is an intelligent thinker with smart ideas and the savvy to get things done. His connections may well prove useful and he seems both genuine and keen to make his mark as a person of worth.”

So which mayoral candidate is capable of fixing London’s housing crisis?

London mayoral candidates’ housing policies:  

Sadiq Khan (Labour)

Labour mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan has vowed to deliver 80,000 new homes in the capital each year, 50% of which will be affordable, by freeing up more brownfield land for housebuilding. He also wants to form a ‘new homes’ division in City Hall, set up a not-for-profit letting agency, aim to restrict rent rises, and invest more in the London Affordable Homes Programme.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Zac Goldsmith (Conservative)

The Conservative candidate has also pledged to focus on releasing more publicly-owned brownfield land for the construction of more residential properties, with a view to delivering 50,000 new homes a year in London by 2020, financed in part by a new pan-London investment fund for overseas investors. He also wants to bring thousands of vacant homes back into use, get tough on rogue landlords, and introduce longer term tenancies.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats)

Caroline Pidgeon wants to boost new housing supply in the capital, including significantly more council homes at affordable rent levels. She also wants all private landlords in the capital to be registered, introduce a ‘right to buy’ for tenants if the landlord decides to sell, abolish letting agency fees for tenants and promote three- to five-year tenancies.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Sian Berry (Green Party)

Sian Berry is demanding that the mayor of London be given greater rent controls, as part of efforts to help private renters in the capital. She also believes that there should be a voluntary landlord registration in place, as well as a new Renters’ Union, financed by City Hall, designed to provide tenants with greater support and advice.

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

Peter Whittle (UKIP)

Aside from lobby for “sensible migration” levels to help restrict demand for housing, Peter Whittle has pledged to boost housebuilding levels. He believes that a comprehensive registry of all London’s brownfield sites is crucial to boosting the supply of land for the construction of new homes. Whittle has also proposed taxing buy-to-let landlords at a higher rate if they leave their homes empty and offering long-term residents in London priority when it comes to social housing. 

London mayoral election: A referendum on housing

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