Could the end finally be in sight for the ridiculously protracted process by which the level of affordable housing in major London developments is decided?
In this week’s splash, we reveal that Boris Johnson is considering introducing a fixed level of around 25%.
In many ways, it makes sense. As parties on both sides of the fence know all too well, it can take months if not years to thrash out the contribution, with the developer’s opening offer usually unrealistically low, the local authority’s demand unrealistically high - and the outcome what everyone expected it to be at the outset.
On paper, a fixed level would speed things up. No more viability assessments. No more pointless posturing. No more interminable wrangling. But 25% is way above the 10% to 15% typically recommended in viability tests - and could render difficult schemes unviable. It is also far lower than the 35% to 50% set by London boroughs or Ken Livingstone as mayor; hence his withering comment that it would be “catastrophic”. Given the strong language being used, expect a lot of negotiation before a non-negotiable level is set.
What is not negotiable is the fact that despite the economic recovery, the high street still needs all the help it can get. This Wednesday, the government announced plans that could give it the boost it needs. Last month, its proposed relaxation of Sunday trading laws sparked concerns those that don’t need help (big out-of-town superstores) would benefit at the expense of those that do (small independent c-stores) by removing the latter’s slender competitive advantage. Plans published this week, however, give local authorities the power to exclude out-of-town shopping centres and relax the laws on the high street only if they want to. The move could throw a vital lifeline to high street retailers - although how many are left to benefit is debatable.
From strong to bad language
Last week, I called David Cameron out on the language he used in relation to foreign investors against the backdrop of the Calais crisis. Now, having referred to the “swarm” of migrants, he is upping the anti-immigrant ante further with a new bill compelling landlords to evict illegal immigrants. I’m all for rooting out rogue landlords - and for stopping illegal immigrants from flouting UK laws for that matter - but the timing of the announcement seems cynical. Plus, according to Greg Clark, the initiative is part of a “joined-up system to send people home”, a horribly evocative phrase for many perfectly legitimate UK citizens. The crisis needs addressing, but not like this.
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