If a certain lager brand made cities, it would make them like London. A melting pot of global culture and a magnet for the world’s best business, creative, cultural and sporting talent; home to many of the best theatres, hotels, shops and universities; and an accessible city centre brimming with green open space and world-famous landmarks. Even the sun was out last weekend. It’s no wonder London regularly ranks as one of the world’s top cities for tourists, retailers, businesses and students – not to mention the odd Russian billionaire.
Yet, the long-term future of the capital’s success is at risk and it has a lot to do with housing. In the CBI’s recent London Business Survey, 66 per cent of responding businesses said housing in London – both its availability and affordability – hinders the recruitment of entry-level staff (up nine per cent since last year), while 28 per cent reported that staff had actually quit because of high housing and commuting costs. This past week’s news that the average London house price has marginally fallen will have done little to enthuse wannabe Londoners – it’s still nearly half a million pounds, more than 13 times the average salary.
The solution to London’s housing crisis has been hotly debated and will no doubt involve plenty of politics, renewed investment from developers, motivated local councils and some warmer receptions from affected communities.
A recent London First comment piece in the Evening Standard provided some practical solutions – it called for more money, more land (particularly in the outer boroughs) and an increase in housing densities around transport hubs, with the onus on the Mayor to actively ensure that growth is delivered. These all make sense and, at City Hall, the political determination seems there. London Mayor Sadiq Khan knows that ‘our housing crisis is the biggest threat to London’s future’ and recently launched his Housing Strategy. A week earlier, he announced funding for 10,000 new council homes in the capital over the next four years. Yet it’ll take more than political soundbites to get homes built.
Earlier this month, Sadiq passed the midway point in his Mayoral term and he knows housing will be at the top of voters' agendas when he faces them again in May 2020. London needs 65,000 new homes a year and just 33,000 were built last year, so he needs to do something fast or the crisis will only get worse.
And on that (bitter) note, I’m off to the pub – so long as it hasn’t been converted to residential just yet.
Will Scawn is an associate director at Camargue.