Press Release

London’s boroughs are building again, but full potential is yet to be realised

London’s boroughs could deliver 37,300 homes over the next five years, but their contribution is hampered by restricted borrowing capacity and a lack of internal capacity and expertise, a new report by Centre for London has found.

Reviewing council-led models of housebuilding across the capital the report, Borough Builders, found that 22 boroughs have started to build again, driven by the need to create more housing for all tenures, to meet local needs and to deliver better places while generating a financial return. These existing schemes are already set to deliver 23,600 homes – close to eight per cent of the target for London boroughs over the next five years.

But the real potential is yet to be realised. The report suggests if every one of London’s 32 boroughs committed to delivering a minimum of 10 per cent of their draft new London Plan target (either directly or through a wholly-owned company), a total of 37,300 homes could be delivered across the next five years, representing 12 per cent of London’s housing target overall.

The report also highlights the challenges that prevent councils from increasing their housing delivery to its full potential. These include constraints on borrowing capacity, intra-council barriers and lack of political support, as well as planning and development issues that are also exacerbated by a lack of internal capacity and expertise.

Speaking to councils in the capital, the report argues that boroughs could work together better to share expertise and maximise the number of homes they build, but also argues that policymakers need to do more to support and encourage them to deliver more. The report therefore calls on:

  • The Government to relax the conditions attached to various funding streams and recognise the key role that councils can play in delivering more housing.
  • The GLA should, through the existing Public Practice scheme, give more boroughs access to the development staff that they will need as they start building homes again.
  • The Mayor should use his funding powers to support the development of partnerships between boroughs at sub-regional level.

Victoria Pinoncely, Research Manager at Centre for London, said:

“Boroughs are already making a significant contribution towards achieving the aims of the draft New London Plan on small sites, densification and placemaking. But if every borough were involved or did more, it could represent a real step change in new housing delivery.

“As it stands, they have one hand behind their backs. Restricted access to funding, underfunded planning departments and weak political support for schemes hampers their ability to deliver the homes the London desperately needs.

“These barriers need to be removed if we’re to realise the full potential of borough builders, and meet the mayor’s ambitious housing targets.”

Notes to editors:

  • This report focuses on approaches where councils retain a long-term stake in development and that are council-led (either through an in-house team or through a wholly-owned council company) rather than joint ventures in partnership with a private developer or a housing association.
  • The review of current borough building activities included a desktop review of wholly-owned council companies and direct delivery initiatives in London, further refining results through a survey which was sent to senior housing officers in the 32 London boroughs in March and April 2018.
  • The research has established that 22 boroughs currently have active council-led approaches, meeting 10 per cent of their draft new London Plan targets on average. The potential figure was calculated by  applying this 10 per cent average delivery figure against London Plan targets to boroughs that are currently inactive or meeting under 10% of their set targets.

About Centre for London

  • Centre for London is the capital’s dedicated think tank. Politically independent and a registered charity, the Centre develops new solutions to London’s critical challenges, advocates for a fair and prosperous global city and influences policy and practice.
  • This project has been generously supported by Supporting Sponsors Be First, Brick by Brick, London Borough of Harrow, London Borough of Lewisham, London Borough of Southwark.