Siobhan Benita on Housing

If you’re thinking “Siobhan who?” you need to get a Twitter account.

She’s the independent Mayoral candidate who’s won the hearts of many media types over the past few weeks.

I thought I’d take a look at her housing manifesto.

Before I do though, I want to say something about the campaign she’s running.

Siobhan’s running on an anti-politics ticket: free to represent Londoners, not a political party. She’s an outsider: not a politician, but ‘a successful working mum who has resigned from her senior Whitehall job to run in the Mayor election.’

As her quote above suggests, she’s not quite the outsider, anti-establishment candidate. Rather she was a top Whitehall mandarin who has the backing of Gus O’Donnell, former Head of the Civil Service no less. That’s very much the establishment and it’s that bit of the establishment, (which unlike the much maligned politicians) rarely has to justify its actions, enjoys secure jobs and and is not directly accountable to the British people. That background tells in her policies.

Incidentally, I’m not sure she’s been paying attention if she thinks Ken and Boris are slaves to the party line.

Anyway, on to the housing policy.

Most of it is fairly sensible hum drum stuff: private landlord MOTs (fine); bringing empty properties back into use (an old chestnut); set a 50% affordable target (good); encourage community land trusts (don’t they all?); convene a housing summit ‘to demonstrate my determination’ on housing (does it really?) and commission a housing needs assessment (not much of a vote winner).

The big and genuinely interesting idea is the creation of a secondary regulated housing market, with permanently lower prices and rents. It goes like this: developers build on leased GLA land for free and at a modest profit, so that the price of those homes is kept low when sold. Owners of these cut-price homes will be restricted by law from selling them on the commercial market and can only sell them on the regulated market, ensuring the homes always remain at a lower price. Where those homes are bought for rent, those tenancies will be more tightly regulated and rents kept lower.

Siobhan’s going to have a target to build 80,000 of these in her first term.

This is a plausible idea in theory and innovative. If successful it could increase overall supply quickly. The cheaper homes could help those on moderate incomes to continue living in the capita – helping bridge the increasing division between the lowest incomes in social housing and the rich and super rich who own.

The problem? This has all the hallmarks of an over-engineered Whitehall scheme that will never get off the ground. This is an idea for a think tank round-table debate, not politics for real.

When you turn the page, Siobhan says that you need to implement this ‘through an Act of Parliament – either a Hybrid Bill or a Local Government Bill – providing for this regulated market.’ So, her main housing policy relies on her former colleagues in the civil service and central government giving it the green light?

That’s not what London or even local politics is about. It’s about having a clear, easily understood vision and then convincing people you can deliver it.

With the same main candidates as last time round, I can see how a good independent can give the campaign a breath of fresh air. And Siobhan Benita seems good. I think a Ken vs. Siobhan debate on policy and the big issues would be an interesting one and one more enlightening than the one with Boris.

But, if you do care about housing, Ken still comes out top, with serious and deliverable policies. And, despite having been a professional politician for decades, has more of a claim to being an anti-establishment outsider.

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4 Responses to Siobhan Benita on Housing

  1. Vincent Davis (Lewisham Councillor) says:

    Good to see a politician with radical ideas on housing. Reflects some of my recent thinking too. Low Cost Home Ownership needs to be encouraged. Right to Buy has had a devastating effect on social housing supply while delivering Low Cost Home Ownership once – with Right to Buyers (or their children) making huge profits and homes being lost to the private sector. If Right to Buyers could only sell to someone on the council’s waiting list and be required to pass the discount on or even sell at the price they bought at then Low Cost Home Ownership that pass from one generation to the next, benefitting those in need, rather than huge capital gains passing from one generation to the next, within the same family.

    Labour urgently need to some up with attractive housing policies that meet the needs of the poorest and of the squeezed middle. This should definitely be food for thought for Ken, when he wins tomorrow, and Ed Milliband.

  2. DaftAida says:

    for heaven’s sake. if ken still comes out on top there is no basis for any of this preambling useless focus of attention. he’s a dispicable creature.

  3. Pingback: Monday’s London Links

  4. Bernard Crofton says:

    “convene a housing summit ‘to demonstrate my determination’ on housing ” is actually straight from Sir Humphrey. I wonder who would be round that table?

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