Political row at City Hall over affordable housing slowdown

Mayor of London blames government after stats show just 2.8% of affordable homes goal met with two years left to hit remaining 97.2%, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Mayor of London-funded housing schemes have stalled
Mayor of London-funded housing schemes have stalled

Sadiq Khan has come under renewed pressure over the low number of homes started in London under his latest affordable housing programme.

Data released on Tuesday (13th) reveals that only 658 homes were started under the programme between April and December last year, as the mayor scrambles to hit a target of at least 23,900 homes by March 2026.

It means that Khan has achieved just 2.8% of his goal, with a little over two years to make up the remaining 97.2%. A spokesperson for the mayor promised that the programme’s delivery would “ramp up” over the coming months and said that under the previous programme, Khan had put London “significantly ahead of the rest of the country”.

Tory assembly member Lord Bailey said the latest figures were “an insult to Londoners who need these properties” and that the Labour mayor “is fuelling London’s housing crisis”.

He pointed to the findings of an independent review, which had been ordered by the government in December and published on Tuesday. It found that Khan’s London Plan “now works to frustrate rather than facilitate the delivery of new homes on brownfield sites”.

Lord Bailey called this “a damning indictment of the mayor’s development strategy for London”, though Khan has previously rejected the review as “a desperate political stunt” from a government which he acccused of “undermining devolution”.

The latest affordable housing programme was meant to begin in 2021 and is being paid for using £4bn of government funding. It was originally meant to deliver 35,000 homes, but this was later reduced to a range of between 23,900 and 27,200.

The capital’s deputy mayor for housing, Tom Copley, told a City Hall meeting in October last year that rising inflation, interest rates, the conflict in Ukraine and extra fire safety regulations arising from the Grenfell Tower disaster had created “extremely unfavourable market conditions” for the building of new homes.

Zero homes had been started under the new programme between April and June last year, it was revealed in August. Copley said that this was due to “frustrating delays” in signing contracts with housing associations and developers, resulting from a “pause” ordered by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

The deputy mayor claimed the pause had been ordered because of a “dispute” between the Treasury and DLUHC. By the time the row had been resolved in October 2022, costs were said to have risen, and the programme was in need of being “re-profiled” downwards from its original 35,000-home target, before being signed off by Housing Secretary Michael Gove in July 2023.

The mayor celebrated in May last year after it was announced that he had achieved the target set under the previous affordable housing programme, which required 116,000 homes to be started between April 2016 and March 2023.

Copley said that if it had not been for the government-ordered pause, homes could have been started under the new programme before the end of March 2023 – meaning that it would have begun at the same time as the previous programme was concluding.

Robert Colvile, director of the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies think tank, said in a post on Twitter that the new figures provided further evidence of Khan’s “thoroughly awful record on housing, and his relentless attempts to gaslight London into believing the opposite”.

Responding, Copley posted: “Affordable housing completions in London are *up* on the same period last year. In 2022/23 we started more than 25k and you gave us no credit. It’s hard to start more affordable homes when the government crashes the economy and then Michael Gove doesn’t sign your funding programme off until July 2023.”

The latest data show that a total of 6,683 City Hall-funded affordable homes were completed between April and December 2023. Most of those homes were part of the previous affordable homes programme, and none were from the current one – with the others coming from separate schemes. This figure of 6,683 completions was almost 25% higher than the 5,360 homes completed during the same period in 2022.

A spokesperson for the mayor said: “Sadiq has met his 116,000 affordable homes target, putting London significantly ahead of the rest of the country. Under Sadiq, London has completed more homes of all types in recent years than at any time since the 1930s and delivered higher council homebuilding last year than at any time since the 1970s – more than double the rest of the country combined.

“These new figures show that 6,683 affordable housing completions have been achieved in London 2023/24 so far, a welcome increase on the same period last year. Despite ministers’ mismanagement of the latest affordable homes programme, with delays meaning no homes could start until the second half of last year, delivery is now underway and will ramp up.

“However, with a national housing downturn now looming and developers warning that national housebuilding could fall to the lowest level since the Second World War, ministers must now step up and act to give London the funding it needs to carry on delivering genuinely affordable homes, starting with a £2.2bn boost to council and social housing supply in the capital.”

In September 2023 Khan accused the government of “dither and delay” in clarifying its plans to require new buildings taller than 18 metres to have more than one staircase. The mayor claimed that 34,000 homes on major development sites in the capital had become unable to proceed, due to uncertainty over how the new rule would be applied.

The latest set of figures show that a further 216 homes were started under separate City Hall schemes between April and December last year, though they do not count towards the 23,900 target.

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