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18 August 2015

Tessa Jowell is the right candidate to get homes built for Londoners

Tessa Jowell has the vision and the ability to make change happen, says former housing minister Nick Raynsford.

By Nick Raynsford

All of Labour’s candidates for London Mayor have recognised that housing is the central problem facing the capital. All of them have put forward considered and in some cases innovative programmes for tackling the crisis. But only Tessa Jowell has both the policy ideas and the record of delivery required to get the housing crisis under control.

London’s housing crisis is easy to describe – too few homes being built; too many Londoners on social housing waiting lists; too many driven out of the city by high rents or squalid, sub‐standard conditions; and too many finding home ownership to be completely beyond their reach. Behind it lies a population surge – an extra 100,000 Londoners every year, equal to a new city the size of Nottingham every three years.

But as a former housing minister, I am wary of empty rhetoric, as if by merely asserting that it’s ‘time to build more homes’ or ‘increase the amount of affordable housing’ we will reach housing nirvana. 

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives pay lip service to these goals, but under the present Mayor, barely half the number of new homes required each year are being built. And the Cameron government is making the situation worse. If their latest plan goes ahead – to force housing associations to sell off their property to tenants at a huge discount, and pay for this from the proceeds of forced sales of more council homes sales ‐ it will end up costing untold millions in public investment which should have been available for new housing. This is the height of irresponsibility, all in service of an ownership ideology that trumps every other consideration.

For Labour, making sure people have a decent place to live – whether through ownership, renting or social housing – is in our DNA. But a Labour Mayor will only make an impact if he or she has the right analysis of the problem, and the capacity to act on it effectively. Some candidates have been proposing crude rent controls which will simply reduce still further the supply of new housing. The critical issue is to incentivise a massive new supply of affordable housing, and that requires land. Currently thousands of acres of suitably situated public land which lies idle or under‐used. This could and should become a priority resource for new house building. Land is the scarcest resource and most expensive element in housing supply: so mobilising vacant public land at affordable prices is the key to unlocking the supply of affordable housing at volume.

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At the heart of Tessa’s programme is setting up ‘Homes for Londoners’, a powerful, TfL‐style agency which can get London building again, starting on land owned by the Mayor and the GLA agencies. A committed and focussed Mayor can make a real difference, by bringing together the various public institutions which own land in London – the NHS, the Metropolitan Police, Network Rail and Transport for London, to name a few – and getting them to prioritise the building of affordable homes on suitable sites.

Crucially, Homes for Londoners will deliver the types of housing which Londoners actually need, and not hand land over for more of the luxury‐led developments which have so divide our city. By leveraging the fact that the land is already owned publicly, and by using a delivery model which cuts out the developer middlemen, Tessa will provide genuinely affordable homes to buy and rent.

She will be able to offer ‘rent‐to‐buy’ homes which do not require a deposit, bringing home ownership back into reach for first‐time buyers (and not by irresponsibly selling off public or charity-owned assets as the Tories plan to do). And she will transform standards in the woefully under-regulated private rented sector by offering purpose‐built rental properties and encouraging London Boroughs to take up and extend landlord licensing schemes.

As MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, I worked closely with Tessa on the preparations for London 2012, and saw first‐hand what happens when Tessa is determined to do something. The Olympics and Paralympics were hugely important for the regeneration of East and South East London. The new investment, particularly in mixed communities and affordable housing provided through that regeneration were an example, in microcosm, of what London as a whole needs.

For a real and effective response to London’s housing crisis, we have to give Tessa the mandate to do what she does best – deliver for Londoners. That’s why I’m backing Tessa Jowell to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, and I urge you to do the same.

Nick Raynsford was MP for Greenwich & Woolwich until his retirement in 2015. 

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