On the face of it, a fresh approach to affordable housing delivery in London ought to be welcomed by the capital's local authorities.
After a series of run-ins with then London mayor Ken Livingstone over his blanket 50 per cent minimum target over the past year, a number of boroughs will have been pleased to hear his successor Boris Johnson talking about a more consensual, negotiable approach. In a credit crunch-battered housing market "negotiable" should mean lower.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) has widely publicised its intention to stick to Johnson's manifesto promise to "deliver" 50,000 affordable homes by 2011, even if the small print says "build". But it is more coy about releasing indicative targets. So when a key document with a breakdown of the methodology used found its way to the Planning office, it made interesting reading.
Immediately noticeable is that every borough's target is higher than its London Plan figure - by 9.3 per cent on average. Some will have to more than double their recent rate of supply over the next three years (Planning, 31 October, p1).
In the London Boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets, where the largest number of affordable homes are required, targets are respectively 197 per cent and 98 per cent higher than current delivery rates. In Barnet, the local planning authority is being expected to quadruple the number of affordable homes up to 2011 compared with the level achieved between 2005 and 2008.
GLA number-crunchers arrived at the totals by using housing capacity figures in the last London Plan to calculate the proportion for each borough. They then compared these with local area agreement (LAA) targets and recent supply figures, setting the higher as the indicative target to maximise home numbers.
GLA director of housing Richard Blakeway told Planning that he "does not want to go into the rationale" of the methodology and promises to explain his position in talks with the capital's planning chiefs. But the GLA's working document insists that if boroughs have the land capacity then the targets are reasonable.
In a letter to all 33 authorities, Blakeway asks for their support in achieving these targets and promises to work with them. Boroughs are invited to respond by next Wednesday. Many are reluctant to discuss their views before penning their replies but the words "unrealistic" and "too high" have cropped up a number of times.
While insisting that he does not want to be defeatist, Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames planning director Roy Thompson points out that the GLA's latest annual target of 210 affordable homes is more than 50 per cent higher than the council managed to provide last year. He also has concerns about the methodology.
"By comparing with LAA levels, it is partially basing targets on pre-credit crunch figures. We are not happy with them and I suspect that this will be the view across London. We will be lucky to hit double figures this year," says Thompson. Another planning supremo told Planning that his borough would need to make every home affordable over the next three years to meet its target.
Blakeway points out that there are get-out clauses for planning and housing officers handcuffed by dwindling section 106 receipts. One is that the GLA totals do not subtract the loss of affordable homes through demolition, as planning targets do. Another is that existing homes bought through schemes such as Open Market HomeBuy are regarded as additional.
Blakeway also takes the opportunity to criticise Livingstone's one-size-fits-all approach, claiming that a 50 per cent target acts to deter development. "We want to end up with a strategic target and the responses we have had so far have been positive," he maintains. "There is no doubt that delivering affordable housing in the current market will be challenging, but we want councils to be creative."
He calls the figures "stretch targets" and pitches the approach as a step away from Livingstone's dictatorial capital-wide method. London Councils says it is happy to act as a go-between in talks over the coming weeks. But some suspect that Johnson's consensual strategy will dictate affordable housing policy to the same extent as his predecessor's.
Atisreal affordable housing director Anthony Lee raises the question of how targets will be applied on a site-by-site basis once agreed at borough level. "Under this plan, developers may end up targeting boroughs where figures have been met. There is no incentive beyond the target. I think it is a step back," he says.
With most of the higher targets clustering affordable homes in inner London boroughs, Johnson's rhetoric about supporting the interests of the outer London ring starts to look like conventional Tory policy after all.
HARDEST HIT BOROUGHS
Borough Three-year affordable housing delivery to 2011
Local area Recent Proposed Annual Percentage
agreement supply interim interim rise from
target (2005-08) indicative indicative 2005-08
target target supply
Dagenham 1,785 850 1,951 650 130%
Barnet 2,269 800 3,369 1,123 321%
Bexley - 390 566 189 45%
Brent 1,374 1,170 1,836 612 57%
Croydon 1,356 1,320 1,803 601 37%
Greenwich 1,487 1,520 3,295 1,098 117%
Hackney 1,629 1,260 1,779 593 41%
Havering - 460 877 292 91%
and Chelsea - 380 574 191 51%
Kingston 420 390 631 210 62%
Lambeth 1,600 1,250 1,803 601 44%
Merton 315 480 607 202 26%
Newham - 1,940 5,754 1,918 197%
Tower Hamlets 5,064 2,610 5,164 1,721 98%
Waltham 996 800 1,090 363 36%
(33 councils) 29,435 35,720 51,096 17,031 43%