How TfL can use its land to build more homes, more quickly

The London Assembly Housing Committee have released the report ‘Homes down the track – a marathon and a sprint for TfL‘ which makes a number of recommendations to TfL, the Mayor and their partners, including:

  • TfL, like most other public landowners, is not a property developer. Journeying in that direction takes time and money, and implies organisational change with long-lasting consequences;
  • Delivering affordable homes on expensive sites requires significant subsidy. Many TfL sites are in Inner London so the opportunity costs may be substantial;
  • Small developers need to get back to building homes, rather than just loft extensions and conservatories. TfL needs to work closely with the boroughs, as planning authorities, to shoulder some of the extra costs.

Andrew Boff AM, former Chair of the London Assembly Housing Committee said, “TfL is gearing up to become a significant property developer, with the help of private sector expertise. In forming joint ventures with its development partners, it is retaining, in the main, a long-term interest, offering it control over what is built, and generating ongoing revenue streams.

“TfL has set itself the target of starts on sites by 2020 to deliver 10,000 homes.  Our evidence suggests this is something of a sprint, and we don’t think it’s going to make it unless it takes some more radical steps.  Either way, we need to be clear about the trade-offs TfL’s making, to be sure its land is delivering the best deal for Londoners.”

TfL is a significant London landowner. It owns around 5,700 acres of land which could potentially be built on to provide new homes for Londoners. And its portfolio of sites offers development opportunities well into the future.

However, many of these sites are small and/or hard to access and exploit. Moreover, TfL is not a property developer. It will need to change the way it operates, and its business culture, to enable it to ramp up development.

While the Mayor describes the process of tackling the housing crisis as a “marathon,” more radical measures, such as streamlining TfL’s site bidding process or enabling small builders to build out dedicated pilot sites, may be needed to get the process off to a sprint start.

Getting the best deal from London’s public land

Most public organisations are not geared up to manage property development; to make best use of London’s land, public landowners need to develop or acquire the relevant expertise. TfL has made a good start on this process, but may still need a larger property development team to manage its assets effectively. Other public organisations should also be able to leverage the expertise which the public purse has invested in TfL, so it acts as a multiplier. In analysing and classifying London’s public sites, the London Land Commission has an important role to play.

The Mayor’s role is to take a strategic overview. He must use his soft power and funding to maximum effect in supporting the boroughs to capitalise on the opportunities their land assets represent. This means effective information-sharing and resource-pooling, where appropriate, between boroughs, as well as with TfL and its developer partners, to realise London- wide value.

There are trade-offs to be made in determining what constitutes the best deal. To deliver the best deal for Londoners, collaborating partners need to ensure development objectives for each site are clear and closely aligned from the outset.

Delivering housing quickly and effectively

TfL needs to consider alternative and more rapid approaches to releasing its sites, and to streamline its processes, if it is to deliver thousands of genuinely affordable homes quickly. It must ensure a seamless interface between engineering, operational and property development teams. Harnessing the capacity of smaller builders could also help it to deliver more homes quickly.

London Assembly I Housing Committee 7

TfL should also consider adding a property professional to its board membership, to ensure it has the right skills to scrutinise effectively, and offer leadership and governance capacity, on property development and management activities.

Building London’s capacity to deliver quantity and quality

TfL has the opportunity to create visionary new communities, and to build London’s capacity to deliver new housing stock, now and into the future.

It can do this, firstly, by demonstrating how smaller and medium-sized housebuilding businesses can effectively be re-engaged in housing delivery. Diversifying London’s housebuilding industry is one way to support the step- change in delivery needed to house London’s growing population.

Secondly, its substantial site portfolio offers the chance to focus on the medium-term as well as the short-term, to deliver innovative housing schemes and inspiring new neighbourhoods. It should aim to raise the bar in creating sustainable new places to meet London’s housing needs.

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