Housing Strategy

MQT on 2008-11-12
Session date: 
November 12, 2008
Question By: 
Mike Tuffrey
Liberal Democrats
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


When published, will your Housing Strategy detail measures that can be taken if individual London boroughs fail to meet the targets for affordable homes that your Housing advisor is presently negotiating with the boroughs?


Answer for Housing Strategy

Answer for Housing Strategy

Answered By: 
The Mayor

The answer really is we want to move away from a culture where we try to pretend that we can threaten, bully, force councils into doing things that are simply going to be impossible.

I do think that the system that we are developing has already begun. I think today the opening bids have come in from the boroughs for their targets for affordable home delivery. I do think that that is the best way forward and I think it will yield more fruit than the old system.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): I understand the argument of moving to an actual outcome rather than a target site by site. There are on every site practical reasons why it is difficult to achieve that target, to achieve a good number. The danger with the road you are going down is that you are setting tough targets. I do want to pay tribute to the targets that are being put out already; cynics were looking for you giving a soft spot to your friends in the Tory boroughs. Actually, if I look at the boroughs where the percentages are going up it is mainly Conservative and Liberal Democrat councils where the growth is in. So, the first test will be, when they are revised, do you stick to the 50,000 and are they tough? The problem you have got is when month-by-month, year-by-year, they are not meeting their targets. It is simply not good enough, I put it to you, to say, 'We'll trust that they'll get it right.'

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, I mean there are ultimately utensils of discipline that we could impose. There are funding streams, I suppose, that we could withdraw. I do not want to get down that line now and I certainly do not think that is the most productive way forward at the moment.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): What I want you to do is send out a signal, first that you will publish, say, quarterly real-time performance so that we can see which councils are managing to step up to the plate and which are not. The first commitment is will you publish those numbers regularly, say on a quarterly basis?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): A regular assessment of which councils have agreed to deliver such and such a number?

Mike Tuffrey (AM): No, no. Which councils are achieving. So, they are going to agree the targets and we will see those. Then we need to see are they making it month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, it does not seem unreasonable. If you forgive me I will look into the whys and wherefores and the modalities of delivering that. Providing we can do it without unnecessary hassle and expense, of course we will.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): That is perfect. That will then identify those that either are able or are willing but we will see where it is working. Secondly, will you say now that this billion pounds a year that you have got to spend on housing, you will use some of that to incentivise councils to step up to the plate and to meet their targets? I think that it is very important people know - the councils know - they will get that incentive. I think you said that.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Go on; just expand your thought there.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): Well, what I want is a carrot and stick. You have only talked about carrots and I will agree with you that carrots are important and the obvious thing to do is to use some of that billion for strategic housing money to incentivise councils to go that extra mile site by site.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, there are certainly things we can do, for instance, with the targeted funding stream to encourage councils to make better use of their empty stock that they have got. We could, for instance, forego the Council Tax precept on stock they put back into use. There are certainly things we can do to incentivise councils that I would like to do, yes.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): Good, so they get the message that you are really serious about this target. With no sticks the danger is, quarter by quarter, year by year, people will not maintain the target and there is no pain for them if they do not. I want to suggest a couple of sticks that you can talk about using so that people know that you are serious.

One is that you have call-in powers for schemes that are more than 150 homes. It seems to me you need to signal now that if a borough is falling well behind on its targets, hence the quarterly monitoring, you are prepared to use the powers that you have to call in schemes of 150 more to ensure that you maximise the amount of affordable housing. Because if you will not say that you are prepared to, people will not believe that you are serious about this.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, we are going to use every possible means to make it clear to the boroughs that we are deeply serious about this. I mentioned earlier on there are 155,000 units that are not being built in London that could be built and I think we have a fantastic opportunity actually with the Homes and Communities Agency (HACA) money to jump start the housing market. Nobody across London should be in any doubt at all about our seriousness.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): Good. I will leave it there because it seems to me you have made a good start with the targets so far if they are followed through and finally agreed.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I want to just say that - and thank you for that, Mike - I think Simon Milton [Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning] and our negotiators in this have a great deal of experience, they know the problems inside out and I think there is a much better atmosphere now between us and the boroughs about pushing this thing forward, frankly, in incredibly difficult market circumstances. I mean this is not easy.

Mike Tuffrey (AM): The biggest single test of whether you are going to be a Mayor for the whole of London is this housing issue. At the mention of Simon [Milton]; the cynics will say that half your key advisers were schooled at Lady Porter's [Lady Shirley Porter, former Conservative Leader of Westminster City Council] knee so they know a thing or two. -

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Is it not time that London laid aside these ancient views?

Mike Tuffrey (AM): So the jury is out but you have made a good start. Thank you.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thank you, Mike.