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Build, Baby,Build: Yimbys are London’s future

England's house building pipeline is at the lowest level since records began 17 years ago, as fresh pressure is piled on government parties to mend a “deepening housing crisis”. 
England's house building pipeline is at the lowest level since records began 17 years ago, as fresh pressure is piled on government parties to mend a “deepening housing crisis”.

Despite a few naysayers, all the evidence suggests London is the most likely part of the country to say “yes in my backyard!” The next government must ignore the noisy minority and listen to the voices of progress, says John Myers

London is the most Yimby part of the country, with seven of its boroughs in the top ten council areas most supportive of new development. But our system leaves councillors vulnerable to small, overrepresented groups – grumpy opponents of all development. To fix the problem, we need better ways to deliver high-quality homes that can win broad community support, despite a few naysayers.

The current planning system was designed when London’s population was declining but that’s no longer the case: in fact it has grown by 2m people since the 90s. Yet house building has utterly failed to keep pace, with only three new homes built for every 10 new jobs.

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That is why rents are so unaffordable, why so many homes are overcrowded, and why so many are outdated, badly insulated, and small. Over 300,000 families are on social housing waiting lists. Tens of thousands more families have to live in expensive, overcrowded private rented homes or in temporary accommodation far from home.

Millions live in a smaller home than they could afford under a better system. The cost of building the structure of a new London home is often only a third of what it could sell for. In 2023, the Office for National Statistics estimated that the value of UK land under homes had hit its highest ever level. That is because we have blocked building in so many places. Land with no chance of being built on is not expensive. The shortage is of places where the current system will allow development. And yet London has plenty of land for more homes.

It is too late to fix all this with one or two minor measures. Tackling it will require being both smart and determined – by drawing on policies that have been proven to work and maintain popular support.

The next Government will need to pull out all the stops to unlock the potential of London.

Labour has sensibly promised to build homes on ‘grey belt’. It makes no sense for ‘green belt’ labels to block new development on the sites of former quarries or disused petrol stations near to commuter stations. It should be easier for councils to review green belt designations where they no longer make sense. London has unused wasteland near to stations that should be used for homes.

Another promising route is regeneration. The Mayor’s estate ballots have had huge success in delivering better homes for tenants while adding more council homes through cross-subsidy with more market homes. But many tenants’ desire for estate renewal remains unmet. We need to help social landlords move faster, while ensuring proper safeguards to ensure fair treatment of all residents.

And the success of Haringey’s highly popular policy to allow harmonious upward extensions of Edwardian and Victorian family homes in South Tottenham shows that we can be responsive to community needs and accommodate growing families. That sort of policy, working with homeowners to allow extensions and ‘granny flats’, has had huge success in many parts of the United States. We should learn from those examples. Careful measures like those to enable more ‘gentle density’ will not fix the problem on their own, but they can help reduce the pressure.

I am encouraged by Labour’s focus on fixing planning. They should have the courage to build a consensus to override the entrenched naysayers and listen to the voices of London’s future when they say “Yes in my backyard!”

John Myers is director of YIMBY Alliance, a campaign to end the housing crisis with the support of local communities.