London mayor: the housing policies of Gareth Thomas MP

This is the fifth in the series of articles about the housing policies of Labour’s mayoral candidates.

Gareth Thomas on housing

Gareth Thomas MP, who retained his Harrow West seat at the 2015 Election despite the outer north London swing to the Conservatives, is a former Minister and shadow spokesperson, working mainly on the foreign policy and international development briefs.

But it is the fact that he is a Labour and Co-operative MP and also chair of the Co-operative Party (since 2000) that provides the biggest clue to his position on housing. Gareth follows the long tradition of Co-op Party support for progressive housing policies and especially co-operative ownership and management.

At the election he argued for 10% of the new housing being promised by Labour to be in co-ops (20,000 out of 200,000). He explains his support for co-op housing like this:

Co-op housing helps create a sense of community with tenants involved in key decisions and able to shape a little more the area they live in. Some of the power that would otherwise sit with the private, Council or housing association landlord is instead placed in the hands of the very people who live in the homes.

And he singles out Coin Street as an example of what can be achieved:

Coin Street’s success in building affordable co-op housing in one of Britain’s most desirable locations with its spectacular views across the capital should be an inspiration to the next Mayor to use their own Housing Company to repeat that success many times over.

In recent years he has supported the setting up of council-owned companies to help build new or lease existing properties to meet local need. He has proposed setting up a London Housing Company to help attract finance into building more affordable social housing, including co-op housing. Similarly, he has called for a change in the law to allow mutuals to raise capital from bonds along the lines of the scheme in France, and he has encouraged housing associations to borrow more from ordinary Londoners, building homes with ‘money that would previously have been saved in Isas, premium bonds and interest bearing deposit accounts.’

Gareth has used local constituency examples to illustrate some of his housing policies. For example, he highlighted the Old Post Office site in Harrow, where there are very few affordable homes in a 300-plus flat development. He says this shows that ‘Boris (Johnson)’s refusal to insist on any basic minimum proportion of affordable homes is a critical factor in London’s ever growing shortage of affordable homes.’

The next Mayor should, he says, ‘set an increasing minimum target for affordable homes in new housing developments. 15% in a Mayor’s first year, 25% in their second year, 35% in year 3, 40% in year 4 with 50% being the target for each of a new Mayor’s second term….. A slowly rising affordable housing requirement for developers will help them to plan long term, incentivise them to start developments earlier, and deliver more of the genuinely affordable homes London desperately needs.’

A highlight of Gareth’s campaign has been the emphasis he has put on London becoming a ‘City State’, on a par with Scotland and Wales, able to make its own decisions over the wealth the city creates and becoming more able to tackle the poverty and deprivation that is found there. In particular he thinks London should have greater control over property taxes, although he would also support greater local control over income tax.

I have my doubts about the city state idea (being a Geordie, can Newcastle be one too?), but Gareth does have a neat line about London needing a Barnet formula just as Scotland has the Barnett formula.

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