The housing crisis looms large in Greenwich, as it does the rest of London. Unsurprisingly, our most recent residents’ survey highlighted the provision of affordable, decent housing as a priority for many of our residents – people who are new to the borough and people who have lived here for years who wish that their children could afford a step up towards home ownership. The new mayor of London has a rightly ambitious programme to deliver more genuinely affordable homes across our city, and in Greenwich, we are keen to help in a number of ways. Our approach is based on the 3p’s – planning, partnership and perseverance!
We recently established a housing delivery vehicle to deliver more affordable homes. Meridian Home Start has just become a community benefit society. This vehicle provides us with unique benefits. MHS will be able to enter into arrangements with financial providers to fund development works. It will be able to use some of our right to buy receipts to part-fund schemes, all the more important given that councils are finding these increasingly difficult to use locally. Importantly, this allows us to develop a range of tenures to meet different needs. The next stage of this partnership will involve us identifying public land that can be transferred to accelerate delivery.
Partnership is also making a real difference in Thamesmead – an area greater than the size of central London at the eastern end of our borough Its 40,000 residents have never quite felt the utopian vision of the 21st century town as a reality, but with Peabody taking control of the land and housing stock, the horizon looks promising. We worked with both Peabody and Bexley council to form the first joint mayoral housing zone, resulting in a combined investment of more than £70m, with thousands of homes of which 46 per cent are genuinely affordable. This will provide much-needed, high quality homes on land that was unconnected and underutilised.
We are actively building homes via our local authority new-build scheme which recently transformed an old garage site into 29 bungalows for the over-60s and created six flats for young disabled adults making the transition to independent living. These are incredible schemes stuck in the tens and not the thousands due to the government’s cap on our borrowing. We persevere, and do what we can, but could achieve so much more with a little more freedom.
The murky world of housing viability has been an issue for us all in local government; without any sort of public sector investment into the provision of affordable homes, we are not going to achieve the numbers needed to dent our waiting list of 15,000 people. We were the first council to insist that a full viability assessment is required in the planning process. Labour politicians need to be able to explain clearly the level of Tory disinvestment in housing and its impact. The last ten years have seen huge physical, social and economic change in our borough. We have delivered more than 11,000 homes in the last decade; we know we need to do even more in the next 10 years to provide genuinely affordable homes for our residents and those who will come.
We are excited and ready to work with a mayor who understands that the London housing crisis must be solved by providing genuinely affordable homes for Londoners and their families. We will do all we can to work with him and his team at City Hall, so that the possibilities of London can be realised for everyone, not just the privileged few.
Danny Thorpe is deputy leader of Greenwich council. He tweets @DanLThorpe
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