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Opinion

Sadiq Khan: ‘Council home building has been neglected by a generation of politicians’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says he is turning the tide after decades of neglect in London’s council housing sector.

I grew up on a council estate in south London, so I know first-hand the importance of council housing for giving Londoners a stable and affordable home.

The truth is council home building has been written off and neglected by a generation of politicians. Since the 1980s, there’s been a deliberate attempt to prevent councils from building the new homes that families on ordinary incomes need.

In the time that I’ve been Mayor, I’ve been determined to do things differently and to kick-start a new resurgence of council house building in London, building thousands of modern, green, well-designed homes.

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I’m proud to say that this ambition is bearing fruit. In my election manifesto, I promised to get London building council homes at scale again, starting work on at least 10,000 new homes.

Today, I can announce that we’ve comprehensively beaten that target, with nearly 11,000 council homes already being started. We’re ahead of schedule. It’s testament to the huge ambition of great London councils, like Enfield, where I visited today, who are building first-rate, quality new council homes.

It also shows the huge sea-change there’s been in the capital in recent years. By the end of my predecessor’s time as Mayor, council housing delivery had slowed to unacceptably low levels. Since I’ve been in office, building has grown at an unprecedented rate, with a six-fold increase in new council house building over the last five years, with more built last year than at any time since the 1970s.

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London has a great history of council housing and some of the earliest estates were built in our city – including the Boundary Estate, which was built in the 19th century and remains standing today. Throughout the 20th century, councils were instrumental in first building and then rebuilding modern London, and that legacy is still visible in the streets and estates that shape the capital today.

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I’m working with London’s councils to build on this proud legacy by funding a new generation of council homes which will be the best ever.  In my first term we launched City Hall’s first ever capital funding programme dedicated to council housebuilding – called Building Council Homes for Londoners. We have also funded an innovative new £10m programme to rebuild staffing and capacity in London’s council housing departments that have been depleted over the years. And we have prioritised council housing as part of my new affordable homes programme, with more than half of the funding allocated for new social rent homes going to support council homebuilding with cutting-edge quality and environmental standards.

Local government is leading the way in London, but to go even further and to meet the scale of London’s requirement for new council homes, we now need national politicians to show this same scale of ambition. This must start with significant additional funding, given national investment has decreased significantly in recent years – from around 50 per cent of the total cost of building an affordable home in 2008, to just 15-20 per cent in 2019. The Government must also change outdated rules which mean councils have to grant landowners windfall profits when they are buying land for housing development, rather than allowing them to buy land more cheaply to build more council homes.

The message from London is loud and clear: council homebuilding is back in every part of the city, as we deliver new, affordable housing for thousands of Londoners. But we know there’s still a long way to go, and – for as long as I’m Mayor – we will continue to make council housebuilding a top priority. 

Sadiq Khan is mayor of London

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