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The Politics

Building on a political landscape


As part of WSP’s Big Housing Debate, in our report Building Our Way Out of a Crisis, we consider the political backdrop to building homes over municipal buildings.

The need to plan for the additional housing and economic capacity required for London’s sustainable development has seen the housing crisis rise to the top of the government’s rapidly-changing policy agenda.

Population growth predicted to skyrocket

This focus comes in the wake of the unexpectedly high growth trends revealed by the 2011 Census. The 2011 London Plan – the Mayor’s overall strategic plan for London – assumed that London’s population would grow by an average of 51,000 per year to 2031. However, the 2011 Census results showed that the recent growth rate has been much higher at an average of 87,000 per year.

London’s growth projections have now been revised from 8.2 million in 2011 to:

  • 9.20 million in 2021
  • 9.54 million in 2026
  • 9.84 million in 2031, and
  • 10.11 million in 2036

Ambitious new housing delivery targets

This jump in London’s population forecasts has prompted a flurry of policy-drafting and consultation, including:

One of the key headlines to emerge from this accelerated policy-making process is the Mayor’s new target to increase housing delivery in London to 42,000 homes per year. This is a huge challenge - the latest house building figures show that only 18,380 new homes were built in 2012/13.

The 42,000 annual supply still falls short of the full demand – which has been forecast by the Greater London Authority (GLA)’s 2013 Strategic Housing Market Assessment as being 48,800. The 42,000 new homes a year target is taken from the GLA’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment of London’s capacity within the existing London Plan policies and constraints. This means there will be an ongoing housing deficit, accumulating at the rate of around 7,000 homes every year.

Meeting the shortfall

The draft London Housing Strategy also highlights that there is scope for delivering London’s housing needs if the density of new schemes and the potential of infill – the use of land within a built-up area for further construction – can be maximised. This is why overbuild opportunities should be considered seriously – they can provide a way of achieving the additional housing delivery which London, and Londoners, desperately need.

The significance of meeting housing requirements is also seen as an imperative by business membership organisation London First. Their March 2014 report Home Truths -12 Steps to Solving London’s Housing Crisis describes the situation: ‘London is in the midst of a housing crisis. Demand is growing and far outstrips supply ….This is hampering the capital’s economic and physical growth.’

Wider economic benefits

London First also highlights the opportunity to realise wider economic benefits from new housing, as well as the benefit of providing good quality homes for Londoners. It notes, for example, that ‘building 50,000 homes a year between 2015 and 2031 could generate £18 billion in additional Mayoral and borough income and add £43.2 billion in (direct and indirect) Gross Value Added to London’s economy.’ In addition, there would be further economic benefits through:

  • Council Tax
  • Resident expenditure
  • New Homes Bonus, and
  • Community Infrastructure Levy

London First’s approach sets out the argument for London’s councils to have more freedom to leverage their balance sheets to support new housing development; ‘There are good examples of parts of the public sector bodies, such as the Metropolitan Police, proactively reviewing their estates and making disposals where necessary. However, in general, progress remains slow. There are obvious examples of empty sites or redundant buildings owned by the public sector and many public buildings that are poorly utilised.’

The report advocates a ‘comprehensive asset management strategy … to assess buildings and land within the public sector and identify scope for shared space and consolidation,’ with a new approach to disposal.

So, it is clear that London needs all the help it can get in order to solve the housing crisis. Our overbuild idea can provide part of the answer to this problem by identifying redundant or under-used public sector buildings and proposing innovative designs to maximise the potential of infill development sites.


Take a look at the housing report here and read the rest of our housing debate research using the headings below:

What Londoners think

The reality- case studies

The industry view

The design

The research

The report

The Maths

The environment