Challenges Facing London (Supplementary) [5]

Session date: 
December 7, 2016
Question By: 
Siân Berry
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
Gavin Barwell MP (Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London):


Sian Berry AM:  I want to go back to housing again but also just to ask about public land and alternatives to selling it off.  The new Mayor and TfL have made the positive decision to focus more of their public land on joint ventures and long-term rental homes, which will help to deliver the homes London needs and will create a long-term revenue stream, rather than selling them off.  I recently visited Holloway Prison, which is owned by the Ministry of Justice and has great potential for this.


Do you agree that this approach of not selling off land but keeping an interest and focusing more on revenue has potential not just for TfL but also for other public land owned by other parts of government?

Supplementary To: 


Answer for Challenges Facing London (Supplementary) [5]

Answer for Challenges Facing London (Supplementary) [5]

Answered By: 
Gavin Barwell MP (Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London):

Gavin Barwell MP (Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London):  It can be part of the solution.  What I would say to you is that the historic approach of just flogging off sites to a large developer is not necessarily the best way of going about these things.  It might maximise the short-term capital receipt, but it does not necessarily maximise the number of homes you get.  It certainly does not maximise the buildout rate that you would get.


I suppose where I would slightly disagree with you is that although more homes for rent are part of what London needs, it is not the sole thing.  Most Londoners want to own their own home and we also, therefore, need to make sure that we build more homes for ownership in order that affordability comes down.


Coming back to Assembly Member Devenish’s question, one of the things that we are looking at as part of what we call our Accelerated Construction Programme is to take a large site of public land, break it up into small chunks and go into joint ventures with individual small builders.  If you want to get the quickest buildout of a site, you want a mix of tenures.  You want different developers, some doing private rented, some doing submarket rents and some doing homeownership.  That kind of mixture with different builders doing things onsite maximises the buildout rate, which is what I am most interested in.


Sian Berry AM:  That is good to hear.  If I could pitch again, though, for the benefit of affordable rented homes, a report last month from the New Economics Foundation looked at public land that is planned for sale and the potential for affordable homes on ten sites.  It estimated that building affordable housing in these places could reduce the Housing Benefit bill by £231 million and that is on top of the rents that you collect.


It seems that if you look at it a Government level above the single ministry level, at the Exchequer level, departments holding land could bring benefits to other parts of Government by doing this and by focusing on affordable homes for rent.  I wondered if that more strategic approach is something that you could try to take up to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister.


Gavin Barwell MP (Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London):  The Government is hugely interested in this agenda.  We have a target to dispose of public land across the country equivalent to 160,000 homes.  We are also going to try to work with local authorities to get a similar level of disposal.


Here in London we have the idea agreed of a London Land Commission that would bring the Mayor and me together.  There is huge potential to work on looking at Government land, GLA land and London borough surplus land and what we can do in terms of disposal both to ensure that we get the mix of housing that London needs - affordable rent and also the PRS and homeownership - and to, crucially, get the buildout rates.  As I said in response to Assembly Member Devenish, one of the real problems we have in terms of housing policy is that it takes far too long from when you get planning permission for homes to actually get those homes built out.


Sian Berry AM:  Very finally, you did not mention earlier on community-led housing models.  I know that you visited the Cornwall Community Land Trust (CLT) recently.  Do you think those play a part as well?


Gavin Barwell MP (Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London):  Hugely.  I am hugely interested in that as an agenda.  There is a great scheme in east London that I visited as well.  It is the idea of getting low-cost homeownership where the homes are permanently affordable so that you sell them to someone and, when they sell on, they get sold on at that lower price.  Those homes are permanently affordable for low-cost homeownership.  CLTs also do a lot in terms of affordable rent.  It is a really interesting model.


George Osborne [MP, former Chancellor of the Exchequer] announced £60 million for these kinds of community housing schemes a little while ago and news will be coming very shortly about how we are allocating that.  It is something I am very interested in.