London’s Burning…

…Fetch The Engine: Fire Fire!

I’m amazed that anyone under 35 with legs in their trousers and another language up their sleeve has not left the UK’s absurdly overpriced capital. Over 50% of Londoners own their home (nearly half without a mortgage), but at 26%, market renters are rapidly on the rise, overcrowded, in poverty and not well served. Half a million quid will barely get you a one-bed in London, but will get you a luxury penthouse in the centre of Rotterdam, minutes from beaches and the countryside, or a big new house in booming Bordeaux. [In case you are wondering about relative earnings, my understanding is that the household budget capacity for buying a first home in Bordeaux is similar to that of the average London household]. London’s Mayor might be in charge of the city’s fire brigade, but has limited water to pour on this fire. The key factors are land ownership (a lot of London’s land is no longer in city control and hard to wrest back), capacity to build (which lies largely with a few private sector operators), and public funding and tax policy (controlled from the centre). Empowered mayors can matter a great deal, as my next post on Bordeaux’s renaissance will show. London’s voters must campaign for their new mayor to have the power to pour on water, for all our sakes. Or the young will keep fleeing to Berlin and Bristol. And when my local café turns into a soulless Starbucks I’ll come and join them.

GFOLPS: It’s going to be 350 years since London’s Other Great Fire next year. What better time to vote for a healthy dose of cold water.



2 comments on London’s Burning…

  1. Adonis makes two points: the first is that the private and voluntary sectors cannot meet demand alone: I agree. Everything I have seen in Europe points to a mixed economy of housing delivery, with local authorities being a significant driving force behind upfront investment, master-planning and setting the briefs for major schemes (not necessarily being the actual developer, but this does also happen). It would be a major rebuilding of the public sector to achieve this in the UK.

    The second is that public land is the key to more development: I agree again, but I am less clear about how much of this there really is. (The London Land Commission should help). Estate redevelopment is particularly advocated by Adonis, but again, it is extremely time and resource intensive and has to be handled perfectly. The need to buy out a lot of small (and sometimes larger) ownerships at market value hampers many a strategic site in the UK which would be easier on the continent. Incidentally, TfL is about to embark on a huge development programme of its assets so Adonis need not fear for that ‘public estate’. Network Rail is active in property development too, though the technical challenges should not be underestimated. Some of Peabody’s first large estates were built on surplus railway lands, so railway owners divesting has been active for over 150 years!

    Adonis skips over housing affordability a little too quickly for me. Even if public land is ‘free’, it does often need remediation or new transport to make it fly. If we want say 50% affordable housing on every major London site (as they have, roughly, in many continental European schemes), then my view is that more state funding is required to achieve this. I realise that sounds ‘uncreative’ but I am in no doubt that this (as well as an end to Right To Buy) is the only way to create or retain substantially more homes which are affordable to London’s average household (earning just over £35,000 per year…)

Leave a Reply to Claire Bennie Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.