The next mayoral election has been described as a referendum on housing, with both Goldsmith and Khan pledging to build more homes. A good London is undoubtedly a London in which renting is affordable, with security for tenants and a proper supply of social housing. Building more homes to cope with increasing demand is essential, but this must be done alongside proper consideration of how London’s neighbourhoods and communities can be enhanced rather than compromised by population increase. A good London should be seen as a collection of hundreds of thriving neighbourhoods, or we risk building up a city where suburbs become commuter dormitories.
One of the government’s few solutions to the housing shortage has been to relax the laws on changing commercial property to residential. This has been popular in London with developers where inflated house prices mean that this is a lucrative opportunity. Working for a small business in South London I have experienced this first hand: we were forced out of our offices, along with a number of other business, after the landlord won planning permission to turn them into luxury flats. Hundred of employees left to make way for a small number of low-occupancy flats. Local independent caffs and coffee shops will struggle to cope with the loss in trade. Although there may be situations in which vacant office spaces are good options for redevelopment, generally this policy seem to represent handing unchecked power to developers, without consideration for the effect on the local area.
As a small business looking for an affordable office we found our options were in short supply. Much commercial office space is in central London but is unaffordable. A good London would encourage, rather than deter, SMEs to set up outside the centre, helping to decongest it and providing employment opportunities around the city.
giving other small businesses the opportunity to feed off the increase in daytime footfall. London’s population is growing year on year. This has to be seen as an opportunity to allow local areas to thrive.
The population density of London should mean that amenities can be provided independently. In provincial towns this can be a challenge- smaller shops struggle to compete with big out of town supermarkets, but London should be able to lead on this. This will only be possible by setting some cap on commercial rents so that services like Brixton village, under threat from huge rent hikes, can still operate. A good London would also allow residents and councils the power to challenge the dominance of chain stores. Creating a new structure of residents committees to give people a greater say on their local area could help to ensure that services meet the needs of the local community.
A good London is one in which libraries, community centres and free public spaces are protected, and used as focal points in every local area. The closures of libraries and community centre risks ripping the heart out of communities. Residents committees should have a say over how these spaces are run, but they must also be properly funded. Population increase will mean that, not only will they be well used, but they will also be vital spaces for community support and cohesion. If house building increases we must ensure that these spaces are protected.
Finally, all of the above will be helped by controls on the cost of renting. The current system means that landlords are the financial beneficiaries in London, rather than local communities. In a good London the increase in disposable income created by controls on renting could flow back into small businesses and fund community services such as libraries.