11 August 2008

100 days to scrap affordable housing

As Boris Johnson marks his first 100 days as Mayor, his true colours are showing.

In a decision which they say marks a major shift away from building affordable homes in London, Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council has persuaded Mayor Boris Johnson to trash his own planning policies only a couple of weeks after GLA officers tried to uphold them.

A £50 million development in the White City area of Shepherds Bush was designed to bring the first 'polyclinic' in the UK and 170 homes to one of the most deprived areas of London. But when the local council changed hands two years ago, the new Tory administration objected to the affordable element of the scheme – in particular the 25% marked for family rented housing.

As a result the scheme has been delayed for two years before going to the council’s planning committee on 15 July 2008. The size of the scheme means that the Mayor has a veto and Ken Livingstone had made it clear that the rented housing must be part of the mix.

At the planning committee a report from the GLA was laid round objecting to the scheme. It said: ‘The location of the development on Wormholt Park with new collaborative health care centre with social services would provide further community facilities making these units ideally positioned for new family accommodation. The circumstances are such that the benefits arising from the proposal and its location are clearly suited to provide some provision of new social rented accommodation…a zero social rented development in this case would be a disproportionate approach.’

The council agreed the application despite the GLA objections on the grounds that they could negotiate directly with the Mayor to get rid of the rented homes. This week the GLA issued a further report which stated ‘the zero social rent approach remains unresolved’ but withdrawing its objection without reason.

Boris Johnson’s rejection of his own professional officers' advice shows that party politics rather than the planning or housing policy are determining decisions at City Hall. Hammersmith & Fulham has very high housing need, with over 8,000 on the waiting list and thousands of families overcrowded or in temporary accommodation. 50% of households in the borough have an income below £20,000 and social rented housing is the only opportunity they have to find decent homes.

The Tory council says there is too much social rented housing in the borough, although as a percentage of the whole housing stock it is below the inner London average. They aim to reduce the amount of affordable rented homes by a combination of demolition, sales and setting a zero target on new developments. This will mean thousands more families will suffer the misery of overcrowded, inadequate or unfit homes.

There is also a political agenda here. Like Lady Porter in Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham council believe social tenants are more inclined to support parties other than the Tories. The spectre of gerrymandering is returning to west London 20 years on.


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