The launch of the Capital Club on 11th July brought together leading industry figures to discuss the future of housing and planning in London following the recent General Election. It was chaired by Chris Hayward, JBP Senior Counsel and Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee of the City of London Corporation, and had as guest speaker Bob Neill MP, the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Reasons for the result of the General Election were the first topic of discussion, and one of those identified was Theresa May’s attempt to reverse traditional Tory mantras in the manifesto, and to debate the issue of social housing within the short space of an electoral campaign. It was agreed that the Conservatives had not only failed to win over the young, but had lost the 30-50s vote, in part because of their policies on housing. In light of the Hung Parliament and subsequent Supply and Confidence deal with the DUP, the new Government was judged likely to be one that ‘governs’ rather than ‘legislates’- since passing any new laws will now be much harder in Parliament. For the housing and planning industry, this means that any lobbying should focus on what can be achieved through secondary legislation.
Where social housing was concerned, it was argued that the Conservatives are still not cracking the issue of supply, and won’t be able to until they ‘grasp the nettle’ of releasing more Green Belt land for development. There are also pressures on Conservative MPs to be more than just a ‘Government of Brexit’. For these reasons, attendees expected to see a new Housing Act and a new Starter Homes scheme announced in the autumn, and hoped that the housing stock currently controlled by housing associations would be released onto the market, the proceeds of which could be reinvested into public housing.
It was suggested that the housing issue would only be resolved hand in hand with investment in transport. Government endorsement of Crossrail 2 would be vital, it was said, because Crossrail 1 will be at capacity from the day it opens. Indeed, surveys have shown that there is plenty of land to build on around the Lee Valley and Wimbledon. To this end, attendees thought commitments from Transport for London and the Department for Transport would be beneficial.
The property market was observed to have slowed down because people have become more cautious, and was predicted to remain so until the autumn. However, attendees thought that the Cabinet alliance of David Davis and Philip Hammond, two ‘pragmatic Brexiteers’, also gave hope for a business-friendly Brexit. A soft transition period was predicted to give businesses time to adjust.
The impact of Grenfell Tower was also discussed, and there was consensus that there would be a drive towards more accountability in procurement and supply chains in response. The progress of devolution and the relationship between the GLA and London boroughs would also play a significant role in reshaping the planning landscape. It was estimated that much would depend on next year’s local elections, in which the majority of London boroughs would be in play.