Keir Starmer

Packed housing meeting brings fresh perspectives on key issues


It was standing room only for anyone who arrived late at last Friday’s housing seminar. There was a real buzz of energy and engagement as around 100 people packed into a hall at the British Library. We had to ferry chairs in – and still some were left in the corridor! 

From all the work I do – in my surgeries and from my correspondence – this is a key issue. I introduced the expert speakers, then listened to what they and the remarkably well informed audience had to say.

Tom Copley – Labour’s housing spokesman on the London Assembly – explained the impact the extension of the ‘Right to buy’ would have on Housing Associations. It would also have a devastating effect on Camden, which could be forced to sell off 37% of all its housing stock to pay for this Tory policy. Nor will it lead to the construction of a single new home. 

He was followed by Sarah Hayward, Pat Callaghan and Sue Vincent – all Camden councillors, who explained how they were grappling with the crisis. As Sarah made clear, the real way to begin to tackle the housing crisis is simply to build as much housing as was possible. This is extremely difficult to achieve given the government’s cap on Camden’s borrowing. The housing would be social, affordable and, commercial to help pay for the rest.

Sarah warned that if we were not very careful social housing in central London will come to an end, driving all but the very rich out of our area. Pat echoed this view: 40% of our one bedroom homes are at risk of enforced disposal under the government’s plans. 

Jim Monahan, an independent architect, criticised a range of current policies. His central theme was that there was far too little open disclosure and transparency in the whole housing process. Developers could hide behind the ‘commercial confidentiality’ clauses to prevent the public from getting an accurate picture of their plans. 

James Murray, who kindly came over from Islington, described the innovative initiatives his borough has taken to tackle just this issue. This has included building into development plans an assumption that all aspects of schemes will be public, unless developers can show why this is not in the public interest. 

Throwing open the floor brought forth a flood of suggestions and new thinking – just what we need to go forward. At the end of the meeting I summarised the seven key points that had been made. Here they are: 

  • A need for transparency, in ownership of land and housing and in development planning
  • To look into developing a Land Value Tax to prevent land hoarding
  • A Community Land Trust to help develop new forms of social housing
  • Re-purposing Housing Associations to recommit to their original purposes
  • Re-establishing the 50% affordable housing target across London
  • Work on land use as a means of ensuring sites serve the needs of the community
  • Develop forms of private rent control 

Each of these is complex and challenging. But my aim is to take this forward, with another seminar in the coming months to pick up and develop these issue. It was – as I said last Friday – an excellent beginning; now the real work needs to be done.