Canary Wharf rises above an area of council housing in Limehouse. Photograph: Getty Images.
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“Poor doors” show why we need to get councils building again

We must end the virtual monopoly that private developers have on building affordable homes

The rules are clear: the poor are allowed to live close to the rich, but must use a separate entrance. They can share buildings, but are barred from mixing socially. They live together, but on every other measure they are light years apart. The scene comes straight out of Downton Abbey or a Dickens novel, reeking of inequality, anachronism and humiliation. It is, though, the stark reality of 21st Century London.

The increasing use of so-called "poor doors", as reported by the Guardian at the weekend, is disturbing – but it is just one symptom of a housing emergency that continues to afflict ordinary Londoners. It is quite clear that any system that results in this kind of discrimination is not working. Londoners should not be told that they live can in the capital’s new developments but only as second-rate citizens of their own city.

The Mayor should use the planning system to phase out the "poor door" trend – a practice that has no place in a global city that thrives on its diversity and mixed communities. But let’s not lose sight of the real cause of the problem: a deep housing crisis that dominates life in the capital. The city needs 800,000 new homes by 2021, while over 250,000 London households are already living in overcrowded conditions. A lack of supply means soaring house prices - up 25 per cent in the last year - and rapidly-rising rents are pricing ordinary Londoners out of many areas of the capital, with the result of increased segregation within the city and, now, even within buildings.

Some might ask if having a separate entrance for lower income residents in a development really matters. I believe it does matter when we think about the kind of city we want to live in. Do we want a divided city where the rich and the poor are kept separate – a city in which central London becomes a lifeless millionaire’s playground, while large parts of outer London effectively become ghettos of the poor? Or do we want a vibrant, dynamic world city in which people from all walks of life live, work and play side-by-side, thriving off each other and together contributing to a great global success story? For most Londoners the answer is clear – but it is not one that is being put into action.

Instead, in place of the old "No Irish, no blacks, no dogs" signs that greeted my father when he landed in this city in 1956, some developers are now erecting signs that, in effect, say "No cleaners, no nurses, no teachers". That is the underlying message of building designs that go to great lengths to keep everyone but the richest away from these luxury developments. Affordable homes may be included in the architect’s plans, as they legally have to be, but their eventual inhabitants are increasingly being told that they should be unseen and unheard.

The problem is not limited to London. A similar practice exists in New York, where new developments on the Upper West Side include separate entrances for different groups of residents. The Mayor, recently-elected Bill de Blasio, has rightly baulked at the idea, and made moves to ban the practice. Yet the affordable housing system in New York rests on a tax subsidy to developers who build affordable homes, whereas in the UK developers are only granted planning permission at the outset if they provide affordable housing as part of the development. This process is often heavily negotiated with local authorities and it is at this point - where politicians and planners have the leverage - that we should draw up and rigorously enforce a set of planning guidelines that emphasises shared points of entry and equal access to amenities.  

Those guidelines should be formed in conjunction with developers, housing associations and residents’ groups in order to make sure we get this right. We cannot remove developers’ financial incentive to build developments that make them money - but equally we need to make sure that we give local authorities the powers to get the best possible deal for lower income residents.

We must also end the virtual monopoly that private developers have on building affordable homes. "Poor doors" are the result of a housing system that depends almost entirely on private house-builders to deliver our affordable housing. If we could unleash local authorities from their artificial borrowing caps and empower housing associations to make better use of their assets, private developers would no longer hold all the cards when it comes to building affordable homes for Londoners.

The result of failing to get London building would not just be a deeper housing crisis but a more deeply divided city. Already we are seeing signs of this, with widespread fears that the capital is becoming a city in which the rich and the rest are increasingly segregated. To allow this to happen within individual buildings is simply adding insult to inequality. 

David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

Photo: Getty
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Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true

The fear that voting Ukip would prove a gateway drug for Labour voters appears to be being borne out. 

An astonishing new poll for the Cardiff University Governance Centre and ITV Cymru shows a historic result: the Conservatives ending a 167-year wait for an election victory in Wales.

The numbers that matter:

Conservatives: 40 per cent

Labour: 30 per cent

Plaid Cymru: 13 per cent

Liberal Democrats: 8 per cent

Ukip: 6 per cent

Others: 3 per cent

And for context, here’s what happened in 2015:

Labour 36.9 per cent

Conservatives 27.2 per cent

Ukip 13.6 per cent

Plaid Cymru 12.1 per cent

Liberal Democrat 6.5 per cent

Others 2.6 per cent

There’s a lot to note here. If repeated at a general election, this would mean Labour losing an election in Wales for the first time since the First World War. In addition to losing the popular vote, they would shed ten seats to the Tories.

We're talking about a far more significant reverse than merely losing the next election. 

I don’t want to detract from how bad the Labour performance is in a vacuum – they have lost 6.9 per cent of their vote on 2015, in any case the worst election performance for Labour in Wales since the rout of 1983.  But the really terrifying thing for Labour is not what is happening to their own vote, though that is pretty terrifying.

It’s what’s happened to the Conservative vote – growing in almost every direction. There is some direct Labour to Tory slippage. But the big problem is the longtime fear of Labour MPs – that voting for Ukip would be a gateway drug to voting for the mainstream right – appears to be being realised. Don't forget that most of the Ukip vote in Wales is drawn from people who voted Labour in 2010. (The unnoticed shift of the 2010-5 parliament in a lot of places was a big chunk of the Labour 2010 vote went to Ukip, but was replaced by a chunk of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote.) 

If repeated across the United Kingdom, the Tory landslide will be larger than the 114 majority suggested by the polls and a simple national swing.

As I’ve said before, polls are useful, but they are not the be-all and end-all. The bad news is that this very much supports the pattern at elections since the referendum – Labour falling back, the Tories losing some votes to the Liberal Democrats but more than making up the loss thanks to the collapse of Ukip.

The word from Welsh Labour is that these figures “look about right” at least as far as the drop in the Labour vote, though of course they have no idea what is going on with their opponents’ vote share. As for the Conservatives, their early experiences on the doorstep do show the Ukip vote collapsing to their benefit.

One Labour MP said to me a few days again that they knew their vote was holding up – what they didn’t know was what was happening to their opponents. That’s particularly significant if you have a “safe seat” but less than 50 per cent of the vote.

Wales has local elections throughout the country on 4 May. They should provide an early sign whether these world-shaking figures are really true. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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