Key worker homes

MQT on 2016-12-14
Session date: 
December 14, 2016
Question By: 
Sian Berry
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


How will your Housing Strategy respond to Lord Harris' recommendations to you in his independent review of London's preparedness for major incidents and help more emergency service workers live inside London? 


Answer for Key worker homes

Answer for Key worker homes

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I have been clear that my top responsibility as Mayor is to ensure the safety and security of Londoners.  That is why I appointed Lord [Toby] Harris to undertake his review.  I very much welcome his report [An Independent Review of London’s Preparedness to Respond to a Major Terrorist Incident, October 2016], including the recommendations it makes on housing.


He suggests that we consult boroughs and the Corporation of London on an alteration to the London Plan to formally identify the need for specialist emergency service worker housing as an important planning issue for London and that I ask the Chair of the London Resilience Forum to consider how London’s preparedness to deal with a major incident may be impacted by a majority of the three main blue-light emergency service workers living outside London.


I know that - like many Londoners - emergency service workers are struggling with high housing costs.  Just last week, the Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), Assembly Member Twycross, and my Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, visited Millwall Fire Station to speak with firefighters there about the problems they are facing.


As Assembly Members know, the proportion of new homes granted planning permission that were affordable fell under my predecessor to a shameful 13% in 2014/15.  That is a terrible legacy and reminds us that turning things around will be a marathon, not a sprint.  As well as my team working on carrying through the good news about the record investment from the Government in relation to affordable housing, my team and I have been in discussions with public-sector landowners - including LFEPA, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the NHS - about the important role they can play in bringing forward their land for new and affordable housing.  This will feature in my Housing Strategy and the other work my team is involved with.


The new affordable homes we build will be a mix of low-cost rent, shared ownership and London Living Rent, all of which will help emergency service workers and their families.  For instance, two police constables (PCs) on the MPS’s starting salary would be able to comfortably afford an average London Living Rent or shared ownership home.


Finally, Lord Harris’s report is extremely detailed and contains 127 recommendations.  My team is considering them in detail, but I am happy to commit to the top housing recommendations straight away.  I have already asked the Chair of the London Resilience Forum to consider how London’s preparedness to deal with a major incident may be impacted by so many emergency service workers living outside of London.


Sian Berry AM:  Thank you for that.  It is a really important issue for the city but it is clearly not simple to solve for the keyworkers.


I have been chasing this up and I have done this a couple of times now.  For example, I spoke to the Minister [of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London], Gavin Barwell, about the site of Holloway Prison owned by the Ministry of Justice.  There are lots of different bits of government that have the land, but your Police and Crime Plan does not mention it, though.  It seems to me like you are the right person to provide the link and a clear strategy for keyworkers in London.


Will there be, in your Housing Strategy or maybe as part of the London Land Commission, a clear strategy and targets for keyworkers that we can keep an eye on?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The Minister for London and Minister for Housing, Gavin Barwell, is working very collegially with City Hall and is trying his best with us to persuade Government departments to talk to us when a surplus piece of public land becomes available.  Outside of London, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) gets involved; inside London, nobody is involved.  Often the NHS or the police are good at what they do in their core functions of health or policing, but they are not good at using surplus land for public good.  We are hoping we can come to a deal with the Government so that we can be the ringmaster when it comes for this land and use it for the thing that we need land for, which is affordable housing.


Sian Berry AM:  You will publish some kind of progress report and outline of how that is ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I cannot promise a progress report because we are in negotiations with the Government.  What I can say is that the Minister for London understands the problem in London and is working with us to deal with the Government in relation to surplus public land.


Sian Berry AM:  The Minister also gave a very enthusiastic response about community-led housing.  Co‑ops and community land trusts (CLTs) are absolutely ideal for keyworkers.  The National Custom & Self-Build Association has found that although about 18,000 individuals have put themselves on the self-build registers that councils have set up, very few have so far recorded any groups of people registering.


The potential funding you are talking about and the way you are finding land is all good, but the final part of the picture is people and groups getting together to set up co‑ops.  To help keyworkers and get them thinking about co‑ops and CLTs, perhaps you can consider working with organisations that do this and bring them into GLA workplaces to talk to our police, firefighters and transport workers.  It seems like an ideal way to kick-start this.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  My Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, is talking to all London councils and I will ensure that he raises this with them in relation to the work they are doing to have more co‑ops.


Sian Berry AM:  That is fantastic.  I will push you on that later.  Finally, I asked you in July if you would encourage - and you said you would encourage - the GLA functional bodies to offer tenancy deposit loans to their workers.  How far have you got with that?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We are hoping to make a decision soon.


Sian Berry AM:  I will follow that up in the written questions.  Thank you very much.


Andrew Dismore AM:  .  Can I say, Mr Mayor, how pleased I was to see that the previous Mayor’s plan to sell off Clerkenwell Fire Station, where there are a number of disused flats above the station, has been halted, as well as the sale of the four empty cottages behind West Hampstead Fire Station?  We can see if they can be used to ease the housing crisis, especially for keyworkers.  The West Hampstead homes were wastefully neglected by your predecessor and it will now cost less than £500,000 to refurbish all four and bring them back into use for what they were originally intended, which was keyworker housing for firefighters.


Do you agree that these properties should not be sold off on the open market where they could be used or converted for keyworker housing, especially for the emergency services, like former fire and police buildings such as these?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  This is why we need to have conversations with the Government.  For things that we are directly responsible for - the fire service, the MPS - it is a lot easier.  You are right that “best value”, quote, unquote, means different things to different people.  It could be the highest money you could get on the commercial market or it could be the best value for Londoners.


The good news is that the Minister for London and Minister for Housing gets it.  One of the things we are trying to agree with the Government is that when other surplus public land that is not police or fire becomes available, we can talk about using it for the best value for Londoners, which is genuinely affordable homes.