None of the candidates for London mayor have really addressed the problems highlighted by Newham this week, argues Stuart Macdonald.
It is a worrying sign that the manifestos of the three main candidates in the race to be the next London mayor are so thin on detailed plans for house building in the capital. According to the Homes and Communities Agency it funded just 56 affordable or social housing starts in London in the first six months of 2011/12. Although the HCA is bullish about its end of year figures (due to be released in May), London is in the grip of a long-running housing crisis at the heart of which is a shortage of affordable housing. The media storm that Newham Council found itself at the heart of this week was symptomatic of this and Londoners deserve better from its prospective new mayors on what they would do to provide a longer-term solution.
Of course, as we heard from Brighter Futures HA in Stoke this week, what happens in the overheated housing market of London also matters for many other parts of England as the 33 London boroughs try desperately to find a solution to the conundrum of how to house more people with fewer available homes (due to rising, not falling, rents) and less money. The capital’s council officers have been reduced to choosing between either housing more people in expensive B&Bs, or finding suitable properties in other council areas.
Although it grabbed the headlines this week, in exploring this latter approach Newham Council was doing exactly the same as other London boroughs. The warning from housing minister Grant Shapps in the heat of media exchanges this week that he will prevent councils moving working households or those with children in school when assessing homelessness cases has spooked a number of London town halls. According to one council source, if Mr Shapps does allow legal challenges to be brought against council decisions on this issue as charity Shelter expects, this would ‘make a difficult situation impossible’.
It has to be hoped that once the dust settles, cooler heads will prevail. Benefit caps will rightly stop abuses of the system which the government has frequently highlighted, but, having set the framework, Mr Shapps should allow councils to find the best solutions for their circumstances. Local people can always express their concerns at the ballot box.
For all our coverage of the race to be the next mayor of London see our election page. The leading candidates have all set out their housing policies on our website this week.