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Councils like Islington shouldn't dictate number of affordable homes – Tory mayor hopeful Shaun Bailey

PUBLISHED: 15:09 08 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:47 08 February 2019

Shaun Bailey photographed for Islington Gazette outside City Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Shaun Bailey photographed for Islington Gazette outside City Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Conservative mayoral hopeful Shaun Bailey has sided with Islington’s Labour council in its efforts to lease empty Roman Way flats off the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – sort of.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has launched a number of initiatives to improve air quality, including audits of air pollution around schools. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA ArchiveMayor of London Sadiq Khan has launched a number of initiatives to improve air quality, including audits of air pollution around schools. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive

In an interview with the Gazette, Mr Bailey also said he could put 1,800 extra police on the street without needing extra funding, protect “precious bus routes”, and work with Labour councils to find “more sites to house local people” in a mix of socially rented and market value properties.

He’s bidding to beat Sadiq Khan to become mayor of London at the May 2020 election – but first needs to win over voters in inner-city areas like Islington, where many balk at the thought of voting Tory.

“What you’re saying is fact,” he said.

“But for me, I’m the least slick, partisan of politicians you’ll meet.

“I’m not particularly slick in the sense I’m not sitting around here doing electoral calculus. [...]

“Because I’m not particularly partisan I’d be looking to support councils and social landlords to get things done – you don’t have to be a Tory to vote for me.”

There are 14,000 people on Islington’s housing waiting list – but Mr Bailey didn’t answer directly when asked if the Right to Buy (RTB) scheme should be scrapped so councils can retain their social housing stock.

Some 12,500 Islington social homes have been forcibly taken out of public hands since the scheme launched in 1980.

The Roman Way flats at the back of Pentonville Prison have been mostly empty for 27 years. Picture: Polly HancockThe Roman Way flats at the back of Pentonville Prison have been mostly empty for 27 years. Picture: Polly Hancock

But he said councils “have more access to money than they’ve had in the past” to build homes, pointing to the fact the Prime Minister last year lifted the theoretical cap on how much councils could borrow for development.

They still can’t, however, borrow down against future rental income – only against existing assets.

“The whole point of raising the cap is so they can get more money,” he said.

“And when you’re developing housing often it’s the land value that’s the problem, and the council often own the land.”

In addition, under current rules, councils only receive 75 per cent of the money raised through RTB sales – the rest goes to central government, who also get the rest of the money if councils can’t find ways to spend it within very narrow rules in the space of three years.

Mr Bailey has “some sympathy” with local authorities wanting to choose how they spend the full amount, as each is “aware of what it needs to do in its area”.

But he added: “It’s about financial control for the whole country because of course when councils borrow it adds to our national debt – it isn’t just the council debt – so you do have to have some caps and control.”

Mr Bailey doesn’t think councils should be able to dictate what per centage of a new development should be affordable, as he believes it should be set by government at “a strategic level”, albeit with some consultation with local authorities.

An artist's impression of Hill House in Archway, where permitted development rules mean no affordable housing was built. Picture: BodeAn artist's impression of Hill House in Archway, where permitted development rules mean no affordable housing was built. Picture: Bode

Islington Council won a landmark court case against a developer, which tried to “manipulate” viability assessments to avoid its 50pc affordable housing quota over a site in Parkhurst Road in April.

Asked about permitted development rights, which let private firms dodge the planning process for certain types of development – including turning offices into homes, as seen with Hill House by Archway station – he said loss of workspace and councils’ ability to ensure the quality of housing built without planning permission were his concerns.

On Wellington Mews, the 29 three- and four-bedroom homes behind Pentonville Prison, Mr Bailey gave the council his backing – with caveats. At a relatively late stage of negotiations, the Ministry of Justice this week spurned Islington’s attempts to buy the site.

“On the face of it of course you would [support Islington leasing them],” he said. “Especially if they already have that designation as housing.

“But when you obviously have to get down in detail and understand why they haven’t been disposed.

“But on the face of it, of course, if it’s to provide housing. There’s nobody in London who doesn’t agree we have a big housing need.”

If elected mayor, Mr Bailey says he wouldn’t continue to use Mr Khan’s definition of “genuinely affordable” housing, which sets a target for 50 per cent of developments to include a mix of social rents, homes for the London Living Rent and shared ownership properties.

He wouldn’t revert to former mayor Boris Johnson’s policy of defining affordable as 80pc of the market rate, either.

“That’s a led question,” he said, adding: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Sadiq asked you to ask that.” (No, the mayor of London did not personally brief us ahead of this interview.)

He continued: “I would be looking for a new definition. {...]

“Sadiq’s definition, I think, is actually still pretty expensive, but in his defence you can’t get away from the realities of living in London and land is what drives housing costs in London. It’s super-expensive.

“You certainly wouldn’t be saying significantly more expensive [than Mr Khan’s definition} is realistic because of course people simply cannot pay that.

“So you’d be there, thereabouts – maybe slightly lower if you could find different ways of financing housing.”

The leader of the Greater London Authority Tories wants to find ways of “delivering land slightly cheaper”, and capitalising on “modern building techniques”, joint ventures between housing associations and developers, and alternating the proportion of “socially rented and full commercial rent” in new developments.

Mr Bailey doesn’t think there’s a clear link between the 4,000 fewer police on the streets since 2010 – 300 taken from Islington – and rising levels of violent crime across the capital.

Police cuts

But the Assembly Member, who used to work as a special advisor to former PM David Cameron on youth crime and race, said: “Look, I’m on record as opposing most if not all of the cuts around anything to do with youth work in particular, and policing in general.

“Why I’d argue the mayor’s decisions have been bad is he’s spent so much money: £2.8million on his own office, another £1.8m on new press officers – and he’s had no look at the new technology we could be using.

“It’s not about losing money, it’s about losing lives.

“If Islington has had a reduction in amounts of crime, any crime – great news. [Moped crime, and knife crime among under-25s, fell in 2018.] But to be clear it’s still far worse than it’s ever been.

“And if you look at other police commissioners around the country they have achieved drops in crime with far less money. We are the best funded police force in the country.”

He claims Sadiq Khan had to be “dragged to the table” before he would entertain a “holistic approach”, such as the Glasgow model, which the mayor is now funding.

Scotland’s Violence Reduction Union was set up 2005 to combat knife crime in Glasgow, the former murder capital of Europe.

The approach, borrowed from 1990s Boston’s handbook, pushed doctors, police and social workers to intervene early by seeking out the causes of crime.

It has more than halved Glasgow’s stab deaths.

The Gazette asked Mr Bailey three times if cuts could be seen as a contributing factor to the record level of violent crime in the capital.

“No,” he said. “A contributing factor is what police do.

“ I could give you 50million police tomorrow morning. If they’re not doing [the right] things, you’re not getting the outcomes you’re looking for.

“We could have employed slightly more civilian staff because they’re cheaper, to free up a police officer sitting in Scotland Yard to put them back on the streets.

“It isn’t just the case about how much money police have.

“I circle around crime. While you feel unsafe everything else is unimportant.”

The mayoral elections are on May 7, 2020.

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