Compulsory Purchase Orders - Empty Homes

MQT on 2017-01-18
Session date: 
January 18, 2017
Question By: 
Tom Copley
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Birmingham City Council has approved plans to use Compulsory Purchase Orders to acquire and develop stalled sites and 5,000 empty homes in the city with the view of acquiring homes, revenue and accelerating sites for residential development. Would the Mayor consider funding and assisting boroughs in using CPO powers to create a revolving fund to bring homes that have been empty for a number of years back into use?


Answer for Compulsory Purchase Orders - Empty Homes

Answer for Compulsory Purchase Orders - Empty Homes

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you for your question, Assembly Member Copley.  As you know, London is facing a housing crisis.  We need significantly more new homes of all tenures to meet the needs of the city’s rapidly growing population, but we also need to make the best possible use of the homes that we already have, and that includes tackling the issue of empty homes.  As your question makes clear, in London it is boroughs that take the lead on exercising compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) over empty properties and at City Hall we are keen to support them doing so.  This is something we are currently discussing with London Councils. 


Ahead of that, I have already made money available in my Homes for Londoners Affordable Homes 2016 - 2021 funding guidance that I published in November.  This sets out details of an innovation fund which encourages providers, including London boroughs, to bid to deliver affordable housing in innovative ways.  I have made clear that bids for this fund from boroughs, housing associations or other providers can include projects that will bring empty homes back into use. 


Beyond using CPOs for empty homes, there is also an important role for the GLA and TfL to play in using CPOs to assemble land that unlocks the delivery of much-needed homes as a last resort and where other approaches have failed.  For example, the GLA is using its CPO powers to unlock the delivery of almost 4,000 homes in Ealing at the former gasworks in Southall.  Using CPO powers at this sort of scale rather than for individual empty homes is where I think the GLA can be most effective at getting new homes built for Londoners.  However, it is important to recognise that the current process of compulsory purchase is slow and expensive, and that is why I support the Government’s aims of making it fairer, faster and more certain.  I welcome measures in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill that do just that, especially in relation to aligning GLA and TfL compulsory purchase powers.


Finally, my Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Developments and GLA officers have been in discussion with the Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Government officials to ensure that the Bill delivers a much better CPO system for London, and I hope the final Act will reflect this.


Tom Copley AM:  Thank you very much for that answer, Mr Mayor.  Your manifesto promised to support councils in bringing empty homes back into use using CPOs where necessary and developing planning rules to control buy to leave.  You mentioned talks with boroughs in your answer just then.  What progress have you made in discussing this offer of support with councils in London?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  My team and I have not directly approach London Councils about specific help it wants from City Hall in relation to CPOs.  We talk to them all the time, as you will appreciate, and it is for boroughs in London who take the lead on exercising CPOs over empty properties to see what help we can give them.  As I say, we are different to Birmingham; we are a regional body rather than a council.  It is for the councils to be at the coalface and we are happy to help them in relation to help they need, just like you co-ordinate in relation to Airbnb.  Again, that is an issue for local authorities.  We can provide a role in relation to help we can give and our offer is there.  Any help London councils need, they can get in touch with us. 


Tom Copley AM:  Absolutely, but of course local authorities do find it very difficult to find the funds to issue CPOs even if they perhaps would like to when they have empty buildings.  If there was enthusiasm from the boroughs, would you support a London-wide revolving fund, which is what is set up in Birmingham, which would bring empty buildings back into use, but of course once those buildings were then sold on, the funds would return?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  One of the reasons why we have an innovation fund - and I wrote to you after your question last time about this - is to encourage innovation from local authorities and others.  If boroughs in London want to come together or London councils want to come together, as you suggest, where funding carries on because it revolves, we are happy to look at it.


Tom Copley AM:  Would you be willing to put some money into that fund on the basis that it would be coming back to the GLA?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The innovation fund is there.  If the councils want to come up with a submission, they can look to the innovation fund to potentially fund that.  That is for them to come up with a scheme.  London councils have not said to us that that is the problem, just to be clear.


Tom Copley AM:  Just finally, can I ask you how the next London Plan is going to strengthen boroughs’ abilities to prevent buy-to-leave properties?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  One of the things that James Murray [Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development] and Jules Pipe [Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills] talk about is how we can make sure we address the issue of people buying properties that are then left empty.  The good news is that the problem in London does not appear to be as bad as the problem in Birmingham in relation to empty properties, but if we can address the issue of buy to leave through the London Plan, we will look to doing so.


I am not sure whether we have the powers to do so.  That is why conversations with experts like you are very important going forward.  That is why I made the point in answer to a previous question that process matters because I have never claimed that all the wisdom is in the Mayor’s Office.  We need to speak to others who may have views to how we strengthen housing for everyone in London.


Tom Copley AM:  Thank you.


Steve O’Connell AM:  I very much support appropriate use of councils’ powers to CPO to bring much-needed housing for Londoners, particularly south Londoners.


I would like to turn to the decision by Lewisham Council to CPO the site of Millwall Football Ground.  I have written to you voicing concerns around that.  I know many others have, including Lewisham Conservatives, but for me this is not a political issue.  This is me as a south Londoner and as a football person.  I spent many a happy day at the Den in the 1970s and 1980s as a Crystal Palace fan and so I have a great relationship with Millwall. 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Only because you won.


Steve O’Connell AM:  We won twice, actually, but I come from that neck of the woods and I am a football person.


I would like your thoughts around this because there is a groundswell of unhappiness about potential lack of transparency about relationships with the offshore development company.  The risk to the club is to lose its community trust site and to lose its park and, indeed, the Chief Executive has not been able to give reassurance to fans that the club itself will not move.  Can I have your thoughts around this, Mr Mayor?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Yes.  Thank you for your question and for articulating the concerns of many people.  Can I begin by saying I wholeheartedly support that Millwall stayed in Lewisham.  There have been concerns expressed it may have to leave Lewisham.


One of the upsides and downsides of being the Mayor of London is that people always come to you with problems in London and I wish I had the power to get involved and address some of the challenges raised by people who come to me.  I am afraid the bad news is I have no powers to intervene in the CPO that you are talking about from Lewisham in relation to the site next to Millwall Football Club.  It will have to be approved ultimately by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.  I have no locus in relation to that.


What is important, though, is to make sure that the concerns of residents are taken on board by the council and that councils across the piece when it comes to CPOs factor in these things, but I have no locus to get involved.


Steve O’Connell AM:  This clearly predates you because this was brought forward under the previous administration, but there is a planning process.  You can write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government voicing any thoughts you may have around it.


What local people and fans want is some reassurance that there is some transparency.  There appeared to be some closed doors in the past.  I am not just believing everything I read on Twitter because one would be mad to do so, but as a football person I sense something that is uncomfortable about this and I would like clarity around it, as would many Millwall fans and other football fans, that this is perfectly fine, there are proper processes and everything is OK.  At the moment there is a lack of that transparency and what south Londoners are asking you is to get involved in whatever way you can just to help the process.  If this means delivering some fantastic homes, great, but the reassurance needed is that Millwall Football Club will continue to have a future on that site in Lewisham.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I could have been clearer.  I want Millwall to stay in Lewisham, but there are always two sides to a story or three or four sides to a story.  What I say is I have to be a bit careful.


Steve O’Connell AM:  Indeed.  I take that.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We also have to bear in mind that this is quasi-judicial in the sense that there could be legal challenges.  What I can reassure everyone about is that there is a process in place where, once the local authority, if she decides to issue a CPO and goes to the Secretary of State for approval and there are processes where we can get involved, our democracy has to be open.  Open democracy is very crucial to make sure the public has trust and confidence in politicians and the systems in place.  You are right to articulate some concerns.  Whether they are legitimate, whether they are conspiracy theories, whether they are founded and real, I do not know.  What I do know is that I am quite clear in my mind.  I have looked into whether I can get involved legally.  The answer is no.  I have looked at who makes the decision.  The answer is Lewisham and then the SOS.  I have been quite clear though that I have a leadership role, and my leadership role says I want Millwall to stay in Lewisham, and it is really important that a fair and open process is used to exercise the decision.


Steve O’Connell AM:  My last point, really.  You can probably use your influence with Lewisham Council and the political leaders there, as can others, to perhaps say, “Come on, there are some doubts and worries”.  It is probably in your gift with Lewisham Council to perhaps clear some transparency there.  I will leave it at that, Mr Mayor.


Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  Thank you very much.