Affordable homes for local people is Wandsworth Labour’s top priority


Remarks by Wandsworth Labour leader Simon Hogg to Capital Club breakfast of property developers and architects, March 21, Guildhall, City of London

Thank you for inviting me here today. I would like to outline Wandsworth Labour’s new approach to planning and housing. But first I would like to tell you why I am here and why I think Wandsworth needs a Labour Council.

My name’s Simon Hogg, I’m the leader of Wandsworth Labour. There’s going to be a close election in May and we are planning for a Labour led council for the first time since 1978.

Wandsworth is a fantastic place to live. Its strong, diverse communities represent the best of modern London. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Wandsworth is now at a crossroads.  We can continue with a council that has frankly run out of steam, or choose Labour’s dynamic team with a different vision built on fairness and common sense that puts people first.

As our neighbourhoods change, we need a council with the right values. And as London grows as a global city, we need a fresh, practical approach that harnesses potential without creating imbalance or division. Development is key to that.

I know and care about architecture. I worked at the Architects Journal for five years. And in Wandsworth we have great local buildings, from Battersea Power Station to the Stirling Prize-winning Burntwood school. We’re proud to have Foster + Partners offices in Battersea, alongside Populous in Putney and many other smaller practices.

I recognise the benefits of development – new homes, more jobs and better public buildings.

But there’s a clear feeling now that inappropriate development has gone too far in Wandsworth – it’s out of balance. It’s not just about the buildings, it’s who gets to live in them.

Luxury tower blocks sprout, against public opinion. New developments offer little for local people. Families are priced out.

Wandsworth Conservative Council famously pioneered many practices and models that may have had their day, but now – in 2018 they feel old fashioned, unsuitable and are beginning to backfire. The political consensus has changed.

Wandsworth needs fresh ideas – a new approach to development, and we want your partnership to deliver it.

There are serious challenges

One third of local residents now rent privately. Many pay more than 50% of their take-home pay in rent. Young professional couples with two good salaries are unable to buy.

Expensive and insecure private renting is driving a homelessness crisis: this morning 2,500 homeless children woke up in Wandsworth in council temporary accommodation.

And yet the flagship developments don’t begin to scratch these problems.

Battersea Power Station is sadly a symbol of all that’s gone wrong with the Tory council’s approach to development.

A 9 billion scheme with only 9% affordable housing. Where the council caved in and allowed developers to cut 250 affordable homes. They didn’t even put up a fight. The development is a product of its time – when Boris ran City Hall and George Osborne the treasury – the consensus has shifted.

Building more homes doesn’t reduce housing costs – only building more affordable homes will do that.

What was acceptable 4 or 5 years won’t cut it any more. Housing is the political issue of a generation and people expect socially valuable development. Generation rent don’t believe the language of ‘affordable housing’ – we have to offer bold solutions now.

And it’s not just people struggling in the private rented or social sector that care about this.  Many home owners are anxious about the way the area is changing – becoming exclusive.  They value the diverse and vibrant mix that makes Wandsworth so attractive and they recognise that homes for all is vital for that.  And they also tell us that they don’t think the current administration will do much to change things.

So what’s the Labour plan?

Our number one priority is the sustainable delivery of affordable homes for local people.

We know you can’t solve this alone and we wouldn’t expect you to. London’s housing crisis is long-term and there are no easy answers. We seek a partnership based on new rules.

Here are our ten principles for responsible development:

1 Affordability. We’ll deliver 35% affordable housing, rising to 50% on public land. That won’t even need a change of policy. We’ll just enforce what we have on the books.

2 Integrity. No Labour councillor will accept gifts or meals from a property developer. Save them.  Business will not be done through favoured lobbyists and consultants. ?

3 Efficiency. We employ top-quality planners and will process applications large and small in an effective way.

4 Transparency. All Planning Applications Committee (PAC) meetings will be broadcast live online. Our Town Hall will have the best environment to conduct PAC in the country. Live streaming, councillors on iPads, the public can view building plans on large screens. People should be able to witness the decisions that affect them.

5 Honesty. Deals made with developers will be public and uncensored. Create a new Town Hall team to enforce agreements with property developers. Viability is giving you a bad name. We can’t go on as we are.

If the council makes an agreement, we will honour it. If you make an agreement around design quality, or affordable housing, you will honour it.

6 Regeneration. There has been some controversy around estate regeneration. We support the Winstanley Estate regeneration. The plan guarantees replacement of all social housing and the right for tenants and leaseholders to return to the estate. Green space is preserved and there will be a new church, school and leisure centre.

We’ll continue this important project – and will add 100 extra council homes into it. We’ll hold ballots of residents on any future estate regeneration schemes. We’ll also continue Wandsworth council’s own affordable home building plans and add an extra 100 council homes to that project.

Localism. They will be homes for local people: guaranteed first dibs on new homes built in your neighbourhood. That includes homes for sale, plus council housing and shared ownership. If you can see it being built from your window, you’ll have an opportunity to apply to live there.

8 Partnership. We’re here to help responsible development. Wandsworth will continue to invest in world-class infrastructure. You will be given certainty over planning requirements.  If you follow Wandsworth – and the Mayor’s – planning guidelines you will get planning permission.

9 Fairness. A fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work: we’ll pay all council workers at least the London Living Wage of £10.20 an hour. A real pay rise for our cleaners, cooks and care workers. We’ll expect you to do the same with construction workers when you work in the borough. Local people will be given new opportunities as apprentices.

10 Clarity. ‘Affordable housing’ has lost its meaning – I’d like to say a few words about shared ownership and council housing.

Shared ownership: We see the value of shared ownership but it is running into problems. Few residents are able to ‘staircase’ beyond a 25% stake. We have to recognise many feel developments have become segregated. It’s not sustainable for some residents to look into empty gyms or gardens they have no option of gaining membership to, it doesn’t build communities. Will work with you to develop the model.

Council housing: This is the gold standard of affordable housing and will be stepped up. We want you to put affordable housing at the top of your list. But we won’t rely on you to deliver. We will create council housing ourselves.

First, we’ll halt the sell-off of council street properties. Wandsworth sells around £10m worth of council homes it doesn’t legally have to each year. We’re not just going to arrest the loss of council housing, we have plans to deliver hundreds of new council homes. Through our own programme of council house building, through regeneration and through property purchases. We will increase our council housing stock by hundreds of homes in the next four years.

If we win the election, the first conversation I’ll have with the developers of Battersea Power Station will be to tell them that we expect them to put those 250 homes back into the scheme.  No bravado, no brinkmanship but we do mean it.  And we will use whatever influence we have to restore those homes.

Thank you for your time this morning. I hope I’ve sketched out the basics of our vision and values. I hope we can work together as partners in the years to come.

We welcome development and we believe in growth and prosperity for Wandsworth.  You will find us energetic, ambitious and open to fresh proposals and new ideas.  But our watchwords will be inclusive, appropriate and balance. We will be working with communities and striving to ensure that benefits go to the many, not the few.

Author: Wandsworth Labour

News and opinion from Wandworth Labour councillors

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