Alumni event: Who are we building for?

Guest post by Anna Bolsin and Karen Montgomerie, Alumni reps to the Future of London Steering Group

There was a full house for the first Future London Leaders Alumni event of 2015, hosted by Lovell and Overbury on 19th March 2015. Three unique speakers presented their experience of the housing crisis, with the proviso that they don’t just talk about the numbers!

For many Leaders alumni, the housing crisis is both a professional and a personal issue, so we asked our speakers to consider broader issues such as what we are building, who are we building for, and how we can best focus our activities on meeting London’s housing needs.

The first speaker was Henry Smith, then Area Manager at the GLA, on Housing Zones. Eleven have been announced to date, with the potential to deliver tens of thousands of new homes and to create a number of new residential neighbourhoods. For each Housing Zone, the GLA has worked closely with boroughs to create tailor-made investment packages that will respond to local needs.

Henry argued that this targeted, locally-led investment will act as a catalyst for inward investment and has encouraged local stakeholders to engage with local authorities and to work collaboratively to deliver much-needed new homes.

Second was Dan Wilson-Craw from the campaign organisation Generation Rent, who provided an overview of the issues facing private renters and put forward his suggestions for how these might be addressed. Dan agreed that accelerating housing delivery is paramount, however, to protect the growing number of private renters, he said we also need reform of the private rental market including five-year tenancies, a national register of landlords and regulation of letting agencies.

More radically, Generation Rent is also proposing an alternative housing market, with government funded homes that can only be sold for a limited increase in price to deter speculators and to ensure that people can buy a home for little more than the cost of building it.

Finally, Peter George, Programme Director of Neighbourhoods and Regeneration at Enfield Council, provided a fascinating overview of the work they are doing to deliver homes and to create successful neighbourhoods. This included details of Enfield’s house-building programme and the Meridian Water Housing Zone, where the borough is overcoming significant challenges to turn this former industrial area into a new residential neighbourhood where people want to live.

Enfield has worked hard to engage with local communities to ensure they are the beneficiaries of growth and this is enshrined in their Community Charter, which sets out the Council’s obligations to local residents.

The aim of the event may have been to look behind the numbers, but it was agreed by all speakers that building more homes of all tenure types is absolutely essential. In the lead-up to the General Election, speakers were asked for their number one ask of the next government. Henry and Peter both wished for more grant for genuinely affordable housing and everyone agreed that we need a frank discussion about how we ensure ongoing investment and affordability in the sector.

Where government money is available, it needs to be directed to the right place as part of a long-term and coordinated investment programme, as opposed to short-term and piecemeal interventions, to create lasting change and provide real choice for all levels of income earners.

There was also broad agreement that developers cannot be relied upon to deliver the numbers or types of homes we need and therefore state intervention will be essential, either through direct construction of homes or by intervening to de-risk schemes or create the catalyst for delivery. A lively discussion continued over drinks and nibbles, generously provided by Lovell.


The next Alumni event will be on Thursday 18th June, on community involvement – and challenge – in the planning process. How can we find common ground for planners, developers, politicians and communities to achieve the best possible outcomes for our city?

If you have any questions, please contact Karen (karen.montgomerie@islington.gov.uk) or Anna (abolsin@swan.org.uk).

Are you a Future London Leaders or Leaders Plus alumnus? Join the members-only LinkedIn group for insight and connections. To update your Alumni profile, get in touch with team admin and Leaders coordinator Bal Chauhan at baljit@futureoflondon.org.uk.