Every London mayoral candidate has a recipe for solving our housing crisis.
Tottenham MP David Lammy’s idea of a London housing bond to raise public capital for affordable homes makes sense, as does Andrew Adonis’s insistence that Transport for London play a role with its enormous land bank. So let me add a few ideas of my own, none of which are original but all of which the next mayor might want to think about.
Every edition of Property Week is full of stories about new entrants into the PRS market but precious little seems to be happening on the ground. We surely need a specific use class for PRS that gives its proponents the chance to compete with a buy-build-and-sell developer who will otherwise always be able to pay more by building studios and as many one- and two-bedders as they can. The PRS developer needs communal space and large family units, all of which militates against short-term value but favours long-term yield. Only when the playing field is levelled will the PRS take off in significant numbers. The GLA should take the lead in drawing up a suitable use class order and build it into the London Plan.
The same goes for another obvious gap in the market - new graduate accommodation. When they arrive in London for their first job many young people who don’t even dare think of buying find it just as tough to find somewhere decent to rent. Reza Merchant’s Collective has an answer - student accommodation-style rooms for young graduates. Around 118 sq ft, incorporating a wet room, a concierge service and communal space, plus a weekly change of sheets and room clean with all other charges incorporated for as little as £200 a week.
What the GLA needs to decide is how to distinguish the genuine article from a house in multiple occupation which an unscrupulous landlord might exploit. That means a use class which mandates a maximum tenant age, that singles only are allowed and a concierge and single all-inclusive charge as a mandatory part of the package. We might not need this product in Coventry or Liverpool but we sure as hell need it in London where it is genuinely affordable housing for a vital section of the community.
Flexible workspace is everywhere these days and for good reason. Young entrepreneurs looking to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs may well start out on their mother’s kitchen table until she kicks them out and they bunk up with friends. They are in no position to pay three months deposit to a regular commercial landlord. They have no three years’ accounts and the last thing they want is to be tied into a five-year lease. The reality is they either go broke in six months or are off to Silicon Valley to sell something to Google for a billion dollars. For these novices Shoreditch is now too dear.
And yet there are many sites in parts of London that used to be busy workshops but have lain unused and unloved for generations. Many of these are zoned for strategic industrial employment. The planners understandably don’t want every inch of London to go to residential. But the chances of even light engineering returning in any volume are remote.
The GLA and London boroughs should recognise that this is where our young techpreneurs can be housed if a consent for residential is coupled with a specific commitment not only to provide the workspace but to fill it for a minimum period of, say, five years. It combines our need for housing and equally urgent demand for workspace in a logical integrated way. And it brings real life back to parts of London that have been derelict for decades.
Steve Norris is a former Conservative minister and London mayoral candidate. He is chairman of Soho Estates and the National Planning and Infrastructure Association