Zac Goldsmith, right, with Pocket Living’s chief executive Marc Vlessing
Published: 7 January, 2016
By ELLA JESSEL
CONSERVATIVE mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has admitted that new housing to replace homes lost by expanded Right-to-Buy purchases is highly unlikely to be built in the same area.
He told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday) that housing stock in Camden needs to be “rejigged” in order to allow a greater number of young people to get a foothold on the housing ladder in the borough.
The government’s Housing and Planning Bill, currently going through parliament, is set to expand the use of Right-to-Buy options for social housing tenants, including those living in housing association property.
It was announced this week that the policy may come with a so-called two-for-one deal in which the receipts will be used to build two affordable homes elsewhere. But during a visit to a housing project in Gospel Oak, Mr Goldsmith said it would be hard for the replacements for homes lost in Camden to be built here.
“It’s really difficult,” he said. “When you’re looking at places like Kensington and Chelsea or Westminster its really difficult to do that – it’s a mathematical obstacle.”
Critics have suggested that the policy will change the nature of housing in areas like Camden, where more homes are privately owned and fewer are available for people on the waiting list for social housing.
Mr Goldsmith said the two-for-one deal – part of a parliamentary amendment to Bill accepted this week – which he said would provide an extra 10,000 affordable homes in the capital.
The details of the deal are to emerge after talks with councils, although in Camden it is estimated that 40 per cent of council homes could be sold off in order to pay for the extension of Right to Buy to housing associations.
When asked about the potential loss of social housing, Mr Goldsmith said London’s percentage of social housing is unusually high, and that the balance needed to be “rejigged” in order to increase the amount of homes available for “those in the middle”.
He said: “We have to find a way to cater to people across the whole income spectrum and I don’t think we are doing that. You have social housing and you have the open market stuff and there isn’t nearly enough in-between.” Mr Goldsmith was visiting a housing block in Weedington Road built by Pocket Living, a developer awarded £21.7million by London Mayor Boris Johnson to roll out its compact one-bedroom flats across eight London boroughs.
After being led on a tour of a Pocket showhome by the firm’s chief executive Marc Vlessing, Mr Goldsmith praised the approach of the company which has cornered a niche market by selling microflats to young “city-makers” at a 20 per cent market discount.
Mr Vlessing said not enough was being done for those in the “squeezed middle”, and warned Camden Council had not built enough homes for young professionals.
When asked if a one-bed 38 square metre Pocket Living home in Cricklewood – the only one currently on sale – priced at £276,000, was genuinely “affordable” to the average earner, Mr Goldsmith conceded the term was “elastic and misleading”.
He said: “Affordable has become a stick that people lean on but for many people its meaningless. But what you’ve got to avoid is latching onto the extremes of the subsidy-free open market stuff and social housing, with not nearly enough in the middle.”
Mr Goldsmith said his other policies, such as the London Help to Buy offer – a 40 per cent interest free loan as opposed to 20 per cent available in the rest of the country – as well as the commitment to increasing shared ownership, will have a “big impact” in helping first-time buyers.
In an opinion piece in today’s New Journal, Labour MP Keir Starmer writes that the government is making it harder to find “genuinely affordable starter homes”. He writes: “The message from the government to those in Camden who are not well of is clear: move away,” he said.