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Boris Johnson launches his Conservative Party leadership with plans for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, tax cuts for the rich and a promise he will be “extolling the virtues of free market capitalism”.
However, Johnson’s past record on housing will also get a lot of attention if the 55-year-old achieves his long-cherished ambition to become leader and Britain’s Prime Minister, writes Paul Coleman.
Johnson, as a two-term Mayor of London between 2008-16, faced persistent criticisms that he primarily served the interests of global property developers.
Critics say Johnson loosened planning rules and supported regeneration schemes that caused net losses of valuable social housing. They say Mayor Johnson failed to persuade developers to build genuinely affordable homes desperately needed by thousands of London families on average and lower household incomes.
The New York-born Old Etonian says he promoted investment in new housing in London at international property fairs such as the MIPIM event in Cannes and at the exclusive annual London Real Estate Forum.
Berkeley Square speech
Rarely seen footage of one of Johnson’s bumptious private speeches at such an event highlights his instinctive support for the unfettered operation of a free market in housing and property in London – and his ideological opposition to councils building new social rent homes.
Johnson’s private speech launched the inaugural LREF held at Berkeley Square in London’s Mayfair in June 2013. In the speech, Johnson describes global property developers, overseas investors and international estate agents “as players in one of the most exciting and important games of Monopoly ever played”. * (Click on quote to see speech).
Johnson adds: “There are people in this room who can genuinely claim that they have got Park Lane. Who’s got Piccadilly? Yes, Land Securities.
“And who’s got the Old Kent Road? And why not? My friends, that’s my message to you tonight. We’re going to need a bigger revised Monopoly board for London.”
Johnson has since robustly defended his legacy as Mayor of London by saying thousands of new ‘affordable’ homes were built during his mayoralty. Housing campaigners though say Johnson perverted the idea of ‘affordability’ by pegging ‘affordable rents’ on new homes to local market rents that rendered those homes unaffordable.
Johnson says the Housing Zones he launched across London continue to attract targeted investment from developers and housing associations. This investment is building new homes and ‘regenerating’ rundown areas, such as in Tottenham, the Elephant and Castle and in parts of London’s docklands.
Critics say Housing Zones – and other council estate regeneration schemes approved by Johnson – continue to cause net losses of social housing. They say regeneration schemes have extracted minimal percentages of genuinely affordable homes from developers whose real intention is only to maximise profits for their shareholders.
Worse still, they say Johnson allowed both Conservative and Labour-led London councils to cheaply sell large swathes of publicly-owned land to eager developers. They say these sales, such as at the Elephant and Castle, West Hendon and at the former Mount Pleasant postal sorting office site, effectively rob taxpayers of valuable assets.
Fast forward to March 2014. Johnson makes a big noise about a small concession he says he has extracted from sixty property developers.
He says they will stop marketing new London homes exclusively overseas in advance and will market them first, or at least simultaneously, to London and UK buyers.
“We want people in great Asian capitals to come to London and invest but we don’t see why they should be able to look at new images of new London properties and take cash out for them ‘off plan’ before Londoners even know about the opportunity,” says Johnson.
However, housing campaigners say working Londoners in need of a mortgaged home simply cannot compete with foreign cash-rich buyers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Shanghai.
Later, buffeted by such criticism, Johnson says: “I do hope that, given the buoyancy of the London property market, developers will accept that a high quotient of affordable homes on new London developments is only reasonable.”
Johnson’s supporters say this was an expression of his genuine housing ambitions for Londoners.
Detractors say it was a rare admission by Johnson of the failure of his Mayoral housing policy.
The London Real Estate Forum 2019 – hyped by organisers as ‘largest gathering of key decision makers in the London property world – is taking place at Artillery Gardens, the HQ of the Honourable Artillery Company, in the City of London on Wednesday 12-Thursday 13 June.
LREF 2019 attracts delegates from global property developers, including Argent, Berkeley, British Land, Crown Estate, Derwent, Grosvenor, Helical and Lendlease – as well as corporate-type housing associations Peabody and L&Q.
Elected councillors and appointed senior officers from London local authorities are quaffing champagne and nibbles at networking receptions.
A two-day LREF pass costs up to £1,195.
* Footage is © London Intelligence ® Agency. All Rights Reserved. No re-use without licence.
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2019