Property industry urges Mayor to revise Draft London Plan

9 Mar 2018

Policy area: Planning

  • Proposals for Build-to-Rent sector are unrealistic
  • Mayor could severely restrict students’ access to purpose-built student accommodation sector, putting more pressure on existing housing

The British Property Federation (BPF) urges today that the Mayor of London revises the Draft London Plan’s proposals for both the Build-to-Rent – new, professionally managed homes built for renters – and purpose-built student accommodation sectors.

Delivery of new Build-to-Rent homes for all Londoners is threatened

While the BPF welcomes the Mayor’s continued recognition of the Build-to-Rent sector and the role it can play in providing much-needed new homes in London, he has contradicted this support by asking both Build-to-Rent and build-for-sale developments to provide the same minimum of 35 per cent affordable housing. Meeting this threshold will fast-track a development through planning.

Build-for-sale, however, is delivered on a very different financial model, where developers typically benefit from revenue earned from sales throughout the construction phases of the development.

Although the BPF agrees with the requirement for affordable housing, Build-to-Rent developers must complete construction of the entire development before having tenants move in and pay rent.

Build-to-Rent, as a result, cannot compete with build-for-sale on land acquisition and pricing, and so the two sectors should be treated differently. The Plan recognises that difference, but then contradicts itself by asking for the same threshold.

The Build-to-Rent sector wants to cater for a range of Londoners and their needs. Currently, this has typically meant setting rents at different price points – and within the sector’s affordable provision, this includes varying discounts from 20 to 50 per cent, delivered in a tenure blind manner. If the Mayor sets an unrealistic threshold, the sector will be squeezed and end up delivering less of a range of discounts, thus not catering for all of Londoners.

For the same reasons – given the sector’s ability to deliver new homes is not linked to the rate of sale – Build-to-Rent can deliver more homes, more quickly. It is growing rapidly outside of London and at a time when the Mayor has committed to an ambitious target of 65,000 new homes each year, there is a danger that more Build-to-Rent investment will be attracted out of the capital.

For student accommodation, the Mayor’s Plan is living in the past

For the purpose-built student accommodation sector, the Mayor’s proposals also need revision.

London has insufficient purpose-built student housing in comparison with its student numbers, which puts significant pressure on the capital’s residential housing stock.

The Draft London Plan stipulates that the sector must link with a Higher Education institution on all new developments – but this will limit access to purpose-built accommodation for students attending smaller institutions.

The number of smaller institutions is growing, with universities from around the world wanting to establish London campuses. They rarely have housing of their own and they lack the financial resources and expertise to invest the significant time required to partner with developers in respect of a specific purpose-built student housing development.

The Mayor’s proposals also apply a 35 per cent threshold approach to affordable student accommodation, again without any evidence that this is achievable.

Ian Fletcher, Director of Real Estate Policy, British Property Federation comments: “Although we are supportive of the Mayor and believe his Plan is excellent in many respects and goes much further than any before, we have growing concerns that on some key aspects there is little evidence to support its policy aspirations.

“We would prefer to work with the Mayor to set a realistic threshold for Build-to-Rent, which was the GLA’s intent up until November of last year, and base it on evidence from the existing Build-to-Rent developments across London. Build-to-Rent has the potential to contribute significantly to London’s housing shortfall – and through proactive policy making, successive Mayors have made London a magnet for that investment, particularly in London’s outer boroughs. Setting the wrong threshold may be good politics, but it is not good policy making.

“The Mayor’s proposals also disincentivise investment into the student accommodation sector – at a time when we should be doing all we can to support the growth of the higher education sector in London and its associated accommodation needs.”