Today the Mayor of London confirmed every expectation and approved the plans to redevelop the Mount Pleasant site, straddling Islington and Camden.
Opposed by local residents, architects, urban designers and politicians from all parties, his decision will only please the Royal Mail Group which owns the site. But this isn’t an isolated case; it’s a microcosm of the Mayor’s failed approach to our housing crisis.
The Mount Pleasant plans are deeply flawed.
Almost 700 homes are planned in a set of ugly, fortress-like buildings, which turn their back on the surrounding area and block off potential walking and cycling routes.
The design has been described by Boris’ favourite designer Thomas Heatherwick – of Olympic torch fame – as “empty, cynical and vacuous”.
Andrew Boff AM tweeted that he had rarely seen an uglier planning application.
Only 163, or 24 per cent, will be affordable. Admittedly the Mayor got this up from 12 per cent, but that’s still very low and the definition of ‘affordable’ makes a nonsense of it anyway.
Of those homes, 65 will be sold under ‘shared ownership’ and will probably only be affordable to the very richest first time buyers allowed under the scheme.
As house prices in the area rise, these will become steadily less affordable. The rest will be for ‘affordable rent’, with rents that look set to be up to three times a council rent for the area.
The remaining homes will be incredibly expensive luxury flats, affordable only to the wealthiest Londoners.
The Mayor has said a few times that he doesn’t want oligarchs to buy homes in London, but who else will be able to afford them? Two thirds of new homes in London are bought by investors, either to stay empty and rise in value, or to be let out for extortionate rents to tenants with very little security.
Instead, he has repeatedly trumpeted his meaningless voluntary agreement with developers, that they will market homes in the UK before they are marketed abroad.
This is populist but pointless, first because it is only voluntary, second because few Londoners will be able to snap the homes up because of the prices, and third because the nationality of the buyers isn’t the real problem.
An investor from Kent is doing just as much to drive up prices and lock Londoners out of ownership as an investor from Kuala Lumpur. We need homes for Londoners, not assets for speculators.
The Mayor rejected my suggestion of starting again on Mount Pleasant with a more community-led approach. This is a shame because the residents are creating a Neighbourhood Forum and have lots of good ideas, while Create Streets came up with a very different proposal that was much more popular with local people.
Even putting aside the flaws with this scheme, his decision is undemocratic. The Mayor should never have been given the power to call in and approve an application that the local council rejected, or in this case that the council hadn’t even come to a decision on.
The London Assembly backed my motion criticising his excessive use of this power in March.
Instead of working with local people and their councils to solve our housing crisis, the Mayor today works with big developers and rich investors to swell their pockets.
In a couple of weeks he will address those developers and investors at the MIPIM UK property fair, where he will be picketed by the Radical Housing Network. They have my full support.