Across London in 2016, 19,845 homes sat idle; totaling £9.4billion worth of property. The city has a problem with housing – a problem that has a plethora of solutions.
The city in second place was Birmingham, with £956million of property unused; over £8billion less. The problem isn’t just that London is under-supplied with housing – something that drives up the already high prices - it's that it’s over-supplied with homes that are too expensive.
The causes of this are numerous, and all contribute to the current crisis that has many experts suggesting an equally varied number of solutions.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated that,
“The only way we will ever be able to fix this crisis is with a major and sustained programme of government investment in new, affordable housing.”
Khan also vowed to crack down on rogue landlords and, perhaps most crucially, foreign buyers who purchase London property to act as ‘gold bricks’.
There’s an argument to be made that limiting foreign ownership could go towards helping the issue, but developers have said that many projects only get off the ground because of injections from overseas capital.
So what can be done?
Metropolitan Green Belt
The first focus should be the capital’s green belt – the huge natural landscape on which building is prohibited.
In theory, this is a noble thing; protecting England’s countryside is something nobody would argue against. However, 18% of the land in the Metropolitan Green Belt is classed as “neglected” – wasteland with derelict buildings, rubbish, and unsightly landscapes.
In fact, only 45% of the land is green, and much of it is farmland too harsh for most plants to survive.
A recent study revealed that only 3.7% of the green belt would need to be used to build 1,000,000 homes. Considering the UK needs to build at least 250,000 homes a year, this extra space would go towards helping the issue.
Modular construction technology is already well underway in Japan, with Toyota claiming that they can build a house in 45 days, and guarantee it to last for 60 years.
UK companies such as Berkeley Homes and nHouse have begun dipping their toes into the technology, with claims from nHouse that they can make a house in 20 days, and then transport and construct it in only half a day.
Another solution proposed for first-time buyers in London’s housing market comes from not-for-profit developer Naked House. Recently subsidised by Sadiq Khan, Naked House plans to construct 22 properties in the Enfield area.
These ultra-basic homes will sell for 40% less than the current average, and bear a minimalist design curated for ‘Generation Rent’. Fully compliant with the London Housing Design Guide, the properties don’t have partitioning walls or extra fixtures beyond what is necessary.
This encourages homeowners to develop the property themselves – perfect for young people joining the housing market who want to make a house a home.
A much more out-there, creative approach to the housing crisis has been explored by property consultancy firm, Knight Frank.
According to the company, London has 23,000 buildings within Zones 1 & 2 that have rooftops suitable for development. This equates to 28million square feet, and the potential for 41,000 new homes.
Knight Frank developed a tool called Skyward that cross-references data from the Ordnance Survey with information on listed buildings, and identified that the value of rooftop-property could be in excess of £51billion. These would not disrupt the city skyline, while making property denser towards the centre of London.
The solution to London’s housing crisis is not an easy one, and nor will it be a one-fix-all job. This ongoing conversation is important if housing is ever to become affordable to the millions of people who need it.
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