Sponsored content: Zac plays the numbers game

In the first of a series of columns exploring the policies of the candidates to become the next London mayor, Perry Miller of communications consultancy PPS Group focuses on the Conservative contender.

Goldsmith: at the heart of his plan is a commitment not to build on any greenfield land in the capital
Goldsmith: at the heart of his plan is a commitment not to build on any greenfield land in the capital

As ex-editor of The Ecologist and current MP for the quintessential 'made it' London suburb of Richmond upon Thames, Zac Goldsmith has had little reason until now to promote the cause of housebuilding. Indeed, his constituency website, amongst its campaigns to save a local cashpoint and improve GP services, makes no mention of what he has dubbed London's biggest challenge.

And yet it is London's housing crisis that features prominently on his mayoral site - a tacit acknowledgement that any serious candidacy for the London mayoralty needs to address the capital's leading issue.

It was never going to be that easy for someone who has burnished their green credentials so brightly, and who represents an area with a poor record for house building, to define a housing strategy that fully addresses the capital's need. That he has been able to do so largely unchallenged, and to take on his Labour counterpart in the process, is to his credit - although it may say more about the state in which we find ourselves, where Commissions report and think tanks publish yet little seems to change.

At the heart of his plan is a commitment not to build on any greenfield land in the capital (playing well to the edge of the London donut where both greenfield and Green Belt are in ample supply). He has said that it would be a 'huge temptation for the next mayor' but it is an approach that he 'completely rejects'. He is convinced that there is more than sufficient brownfield land within Greater London to deliver the housing that the capital needs. He cites, for example, TfL as owning land 'equivalent to 16 Hyde Parks'. For him, that means 50,000 homes a year by 2020 - double the current rate of production.

Brownfield first, or 'brownfield only' in this case, has been tried before and indeed a 'lite' version sits in the NPPF. However, it inevitably throws up questions about compatibility with existing uses and also viability. At the recent launch of the IPPR's London Housing Commission report, Zac committed to introduce greater transparency into the viability process, saying that he would provide a more open structure, ending 'back room deals between local authorities and developers'. This echoes the calls of Labour boroughs in the capital, many of which are shifting policy in this direction, in an effort to see more affordable homes delivered by developers. Suddenly, 50,000 homes a year sounds a trickier prospect, even with his plans to use foreign cash to get homes built for Londoners.

In an attempt to undermine his Labour rival, and bolster his own housing plans, Zac has committed to protect transport investment. While this is largely in the gift of the Chancellor (who has so far been amenable to Zac's financial requests), he has pledged to take the money Sadiq Khan has earmarked for his four-year fares freeze to fund improved transport links. As he asserts, it is investment in an expanded transport network that helps people get to work that will unlock (brownfield) land for housing.

What kind of homes would he like to see built? Well, definitely not office to resi conversions, a policy he has labelled as 'absolutely catastrophic' for London. He has cited Richmond as a borough that has lost a third of its office space to residential 'and the effect of that is that thriving dynamic local spaces are becoming dormitory zones'.

'Alienating' high rise blocks are out too. Rather he appears largely to favour the Create Streets agenda, championed by Andrew Boff AM, Conservative Group Leader of the GLA, which promotes low rise, high density streetscapes (not dissimilar to the suburbs within his constituency, perhaps).

He has also welcomed small-scale, upwards extensions of two storeys and has pledged to survey all public buildings in the capital, adding potential roof space to the London Land Commission's register of public sector land. His campaign is touting figures of 140,000 new homes to come from this initiative - look out Richmond fire station.

With a pledge to give Londoners (those who have lived or worked in London for three years and are not yet homeowners) the first chance to buy up to 30,000 homes built on mayoral land, he rounds out his housing manifesto with a populist flourish. As for his initiative to require London boroughs to deliver two new affordable homes (the definition includes starter homes) for each property sold, that is for another article, with 'where will they be built?' and 'how will the finances work?' being two obvious questions.

Currently Zac trails in the polls and it looks like the prize is Sadiq's to lose. But we remain weeks away from polling day and you know what they say about a week in politics.

Perry Miller is a partner at PPS Group, where he heads up the London planning team.

This article was edited by PPS Group

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs