London Mayor’s Housing Strategy: When is a target not a target?

Our take on a politically charged plenary session on the Mayor of London’s housing strategy

Yesterday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan had a contentious ride when the London Assembly voted against his housing strategy by a majority of one. The fact that the vote was down party lines – with the 13 Conservative, UKIP, Lib Dems and Green AMs voting against and the 12 Labour Members in support – and that it fell short of the two-thirds majority required to force the Mayor to revise or scrap it does not disguise the fact that the Mayor seems to be struggling to live up to his election promises on this key issue.

The vote came on the back of a politically contentious and, at times, emotionally heavy plenary session where the Mayor was questioned by Assembly Members alongside his Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray.

To tackle the housing crisis, Khan was clear in his support for councils and small builders to be key providers in the housing industry. He identified what he saw as an obvious need to diversify the chain of supply of house builders. This was coupled with a robust commitment to council house building as a critical tool in providing affordable homes as well as rental supply.

Depressingly, the plenary then descended into political point-scoring and the apportioning of blame rather than the discussion of the strategy more widely and how solutions could be delivered for Londoners. The Mayor was keen to draw the session’s attention to the fact the previous Johnson administration’s housing strategy had not set targets. Khan’s message was: his administration will possess a target-driven housing strategy, with clear metrics set. And in achieving his mission, London Borough Councils had better get used to targets in their areas.

Much of the rest of the session was then taken up with the pursuing the question: did or didn’t the previous administration have ‘targets’? Murray and Khan stressed that under Johnson there were never specific targets – just ‘aspirations’ – for the number of family-sized homes, but that now – under the new regime – there would be proper targets. Andrew Boff, the Conservative Housing Spokesman, focused on insisting there were targets under the Tory Mayor, but the debate moved on with the help of Labour Assembly Members.

As ever, with debates on housing policy, the important thing is not that there are targets, but can those targets be met? Boff pounced with a series of pointed questions on numbers. Notably, that despite the Government giving funding to build 116,000 homes, it looked as though ‘only’ 54,000 would been started by 2020. Deputy mayor Murray’s response that ‘there is no doubt these are challenging targets’ did not inspire confidence in the outcome.

The Mayor’s response to the same question, however, was perhaps an indication of his strategy for the rest of the term. Khan said ‘In the context of the previous Mayor what we’ve done and what we’re aiming to do are remarkable achievements.’

What’s clear is that the rest of Sadiq Kahn’s term of office will be preoccupied with debate on the housing crisis, associated targets and numbers. Whilst the Mayor was bullish by stating his mayoralty aims to secure “remarkable achievements’ via his housing strategy. There will always be the temptation to highlight your predecessor’s shortcomings.

He now has his strategy. He has more money for housing from central Government than any previous Mayor. There is genuine cross-party support for building more housing. Khan can build on this (no pun intended). Will he be able to deliver by the time of the next election in 2020?

Given Greater London’s burgeoning housing crisis, we must all hope the blame game stops and affordable and decent housing is actually delivered.

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