Last November Mayor Sadiq Khan published the draft London Plan – the document that sets out the strategic framework for how the capital will develop over the coming decades. In response to a consultation on the plan, the LCCI published its latest report Brown for Blue: Land to house London’s emergency workers.
Blue light housing
The new report builds on the Chamber’s June 2016 publication Living on the Edge: Housing London’s Blue Light Emergency Services, which found that the majority of London’s essential, front-line ‘blue light’ emergency services personnel – police officers, firefighters, ambulance paramedics – live outside Greater London. This remains the case. LCCI learnt that the cost of housing in London has been a central factor as why most of our dedicated emergency services operatives live outside the capital. This is concerning as it gives rise to a host of impacts, most immediately on the emergency workers themselves, but also on the capital’s overall resilience preparedness.
Accordingly, LCCI has called on the Mayor to consider how London’s ability to deal with a major incident is impacted by the majority of frontline blue light personnel living outside the city. The Chamber also seeks an alteration to the London Plan so that it formally identifies the need for specialist emergency services housing as an important planning issue for the capital. A recommendation to consult on such a proposal was adopted by the final report of the independent review undertaken by Lord Toby Harris into London’s preparedness to respond to a terrorist incident. LCCI’s latest report takes those recommendations forward, and outlines practical proposals to provide housing for London’s emergency services, within the capital.
Alongside the need for housing for the emergency services, there is still land in London that is contributing little to London’s needs, including ‘brownspace’ in London’s Metropolitan Green Belt. LCCI has long called on the Mayor and boroughs to audit and map this disused and poor-quality land, and to assess if it could be developed to better serve the capital’s needs. For its new report, LCCI commissioned mapping specialists FIND to identify this brownspace. This exercise found that more than 300 hectares of London’s Green Belt are made-up of such disused, derelict or poorly-used land. Equivalent to 500 football pitches (but less than one per cent of the London Green Belt), it could potentially accommodate up to 20,000 new homes.
Brown for blue
It does not make sense that derelict, poor-quality land has protected status while emergency services personnel often cannot even afford to live in London, and have to endure long commutes prior to starting their shift. LCCI’s report proposes that consideration be given to using a small portion of ‘brownspace’ in the 22 per cent of Greater London that is Metropolitan Green Belt for the specific need of affordable housing, to rent, for London’s blue light emergency services.
There is support for this amongst the capital’s business community, as is highlighted by recent LCCI commissioned polling by ComRes: 69 per cent of London businesses would back such a proposal. The mere mention of ‘building’ and ‘Green Belt’ can be contentious. However, LCCI’s proposal is for a limited intervention, with suitable safeguards, to provide homes for the men and women in essential ‘blue light’ emergency services.
To enable this, LCCI recommends that the London Land Commission be tasked with formally identifying all ‘brownspace’ in Greater London’s Metropolitan Green Belt. In addition, a way must be found to enable the identified brownspace to be utilised for blue light housing (which may require national planning policy to be challenged). LCCI therefore proposes that the Mayor and his team focus on two principal recommendations:
- That the new London Plan should identify a ‘need’ for housing provision in London for front-line staff in the police, fire and ambulance paramedic services – in a similar way that previous reviews of the London Plan concluded there was a need for housing provision for older people and students
- That the volume and location of ‘brownspace’ land in those London boroughs that have Metropolitan Green Belt within their confines, be collated by the Greater London Authority and the feasibility of it being utilised to build homes for rent by frontline staff in the police, fire and ambulance paramedic services be examined
This would be a significant undertaking, but one that would adequately prepare and enhance the resilience of our capital city as its population increases.
Thomas Wagemaakers, Policy Research Manager at LCCI