Q&A: Alan Benson

Alan Benson is responsible for housing policy at the Greater London Authority, in charge of its Housing Policy Unit. We talked to him about the new mayor’s plans for the capital, viability and his favourite bridge

The London Plan needs 50,000 new homes a year to meet housing need. How is Sadiq Khan going to achieve that?

Sadiq Khan did not actually commit to a 50,000 target in his manifesto – that was Zac Goldsmith. But he is committed to increasing housing supply and is especially  keen to increase affordable housing delivery, towards his long term aim that 50% of all new homes should be affordable. This is alongside a commitment to being clear on the definition of what is genuinely ‘affordable’ housing in the capital.

But last year fewer than 4900 affordable homes were delivered

And worse than that only 13% of new homes started were affordable – which is why Sadiq says raising affordable housing delivery is a marathon, not a sprint.
Where does the mayor stand on starter homes?
Sadiq’s gone on record saying they are not a product well suited to the capital. The £450,000 ceiling is not ‘affordable’ in a meaningful way for many Londoners and it may only work away from inner London, in areas where prices are more in line with national averages. What matters is meeting need across the income spectrum, not just helping those who can afford these prices.
What was this talk of addressing the issue of viability statements in the planning process to generate more affordable housing?

Nothing is settled yet but put simply we’re thinking that we can’t write new policy ahead of a new London Plan so we must be tougher on viability. If developers achieve 50% or more we’d ask for no viability information. At a threshold (say 35%) we’d be very light touch; if they can’t meet that, we’d insist on open publication of all viability information, which would be scrutinised by an expert viability team at City Hall and every armchair auditor in London and beyond. We’re looking to publish new supplementary planning guidance addressing such issues around October or November.

And what about the ‘Homes for Londoners’ team?

We already have a governing board to drive housing delivery, which will be chaired by Sadiq Khan and includes the deputy mayor for housing, TfL representatives , council leaders, housing associations and private sector representatives.

There’s been a lot of bridge talk recently. Nine Elms, illuminated and garden bridges. Where would you want one and what’s your favourite?

New bridges seem pretty contentious at the moment, so maybe just a modest pedestrian bridge right outside my office to the North Bank by the Tower to make my walk to work a wee bit quicker. My favourite? Hammersmith Bridge – it is the most beautiful and holds the most romantic memories for me.