Sadiq, it’s time to build on the Green Belt

London mayor Sadiq Khan has voiced his opposition to a new housing development in Barkingside, including the construction of 800 new homes on the Green Belt.

According to Khan, opposing Redbridge Council’s plans is about defending ‘the will of the people’. ‘They come first’, he said. But who are these people Khan claims to be supporting? Presumably it’s not the will of most Londoners to block necessary housebuilding, when they regularly tell opinion pollsters that housing provision is the biggest issue facing the capital. Is Khan voicing the will of Redbridge residents, who are on a three-year waiting list for subsidised homes? Is it likely that would-be homeowners in the area, who have seen house prices shoot up by 11.5 per cent over the past year, are keen to restrict housing supply?

In reality, it is the preoccupations of NIMBYists and green groups that are usually pandered to on these matters, ignoring the housing needs and aspirations of everyone else. And it is the will of these campaigners to which Khan is capitulating, not that of ordinary Londoners.

London has a chronic housing shortage following decades of planning restrictions and Green Belt policies that strangle housebuilding. The lack of supply in housing is the singular cause of London’s exorbitant costs. More than a fifth of the land within London itself is classified as Green Belt, covering sites which nobody would call rural. If Khan continues to oppose development on this land, housing will remain unaffordable for most Londoners.

When Khan was first elected, many hoped he would use his clout to promote housebuilding. After all, he made housing central to his campaign, even describing the contest against Etonian environmentalist Zac Goldsmith as a ‘referendum on housing’. Khan promised 80,000 new homes a year, as well as development on land owned by public bodies. His proposals were modest for a global city, which needs millions of new homes. But it is Khan’s reluctance to back Green Belt development that is most concerning. He has ducked the difficult decisions and hard arguments needed to get London building, and has instead sided with the status quo under the guise of the people’s will.

Khan has form when it comes to interpreting the ‘will of the people’ according to his fancy. In an article for the Evening Standard, he claimed to ‘respect’ the ‘democratic will’ of the Brexit vote, yet he also urged Londoners to use the upcoming General Election to reject an ‘extreme and damaging form of Hard Brexit’. Hard Brexit, translated, is Brexit. And Khan doesn’t understand that Brexit, unlike opposition to housebuilding, really is the will of the people. Indeed, while a majority of Londoners voted Remain, 1.5million Londoners voted Leave, which is 200,000 more people than voted for Khan to be mayor. Leave in London is more popular than he is.

When it comes to the housing crisis, the will of the people is clearly to see an end to it. If Khan is serious about realising Londoners’ wishes, he must take on the opponents of development, tear up restrictions on the Green Belt, and allow councils and developers to build the new homes Londoners sorely need.

Fraser Myers is a producer at WORLDbytes.

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