New report calls for greater powers for Mayor to get land for homes

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and local authorities should be given greater powers to get more land into development for new homes in order to help to fix the capital’s housing crisis, according to new research.

A report, commissioned by the Mayor, investigates how land – often in a complex patchwork of different ownerships – is brought together for development in various places around the world. The research looks at the Netherlands, France, Germany, and the USA, to draw lessons for speeding up the assembly of land to deliver new homes in London.

New report calls for greater powers for Mayor to get land for homes

In particular, it highlights how the Mayor should be given greater powers over Compulsory Purchase Orders in London, particularly where developments are at risk of delay. It also proposes new mechanisms for curbing land value speculation in areas due for development – a step that could enable more social rented and other genuinely affordable homes to be built.

Land assembly - the process of forming a single developable site from a number of individually-owned pieces of land – can be complex and time consuming, and this complexity has hindered construction of new homes in London.

Since becoming Mayor, Sadiq has argued that the powers he has at his disposal are insufficient for bringing forward land for development quickly, and that the Government should fundamentally reform compulsory purchase powers, alongside introducing new land assembly mechanisms and resources.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said “This report shows how giving City Hall more powers to bring land forward and ultimately buy it if necessary, as is common in other parts of the world, would help us build more homes, more quickly. It also shows how practical steps to curb speculation – where owners and developers trade land and see its value go up and up – could help us build more social rented and other genuinely affordable homes.

“I am using all the resources I have to their fullest extent to get more homes built in London, and will implement the recommendations of the report as far as my current powers and resources allow. But we need greater devolution of powers and investment from the Government to help us truly shift the gear and make a step change in the number of homes we are building.”

Today’s report, which will be launched this evening by Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development James Murray at an event hosted by London First and Dentons, is entitled “Capital Gains: A Better Land Assembly Model for London” and has been led by Urbanism Environment and Design Ltd (URBED). Its key recommendations include:

  • Establishing a specialist team at City Hall to identify and bring forward land for housing, with the Government providing significant extra resources to support land assembly in London, as is the case in other countries around the world.
  • Reforms to speed up the compulsory purchase process with greater powers devolved to the Mayor, as is common in German cities.
  • Creating special Land Assembly Zones to promote land assembly through negotiation with the landowners or through compulsory purchase, where required. This could see land values frozen at market value on the date of designating the Zones.

Dr Nicholas Falk, Executive Director of the URBED Trust and the main author of the report, said “London needs to match its competitors, using powers that have been lost. Our team used the combined experience on land assembly of lawyers Dentons and surveyors Gerald Eve, together with case studies that I have provided to show how to make a difference. The report goes beyond a review of powers to providing practical examples of how a better model can work.”

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, said “Too many Londoners are being priced out of a place to call home and the failure to build is threatening our capital’s competitiveness. Greater land assembly powers are key to bringing more land forward for development and unlocking a significant increase in housebuilding. But, with London building just half the number of homes it needs each year, there’s a long way to go to fix the housing crisis - Sadiq will have to use every tool available.”

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, concluded “Decades of failure to build the genuinely affordable homes we need has left millions of families struggling in a broken housing market. Buying and developing land is complex and expensive, so giving councils greater powers to push forward and get more homes built is a positive step.

“But much more still needs to be done - while there is cross-party consensus on bringing down the huge cost of land, we now need to see that put into action. Only then can the country get building the genuinely affordable homes for rent that families desperately need.”

Last month, figures revealed that London had seen the highest number of affordable homes started since City Hall took control of housing investment in London. There were 12,526 new affordable homes started over the last 12 months, including thousands based on social rent levels – achieving the Mayor’s target for the year.

While this is a positive start on the first set of homes Sadiq has funded, he is clear that there is more work to be done to tackle the housing crisis in London. He remains determined to do everything in his power to build more homes for Londoners and is on track to deliver his ambition of starting 116,000 genuinely affordable homes by 2022.