Londoners should decide how we use London’s land

As Mayor, I will put power back into the hands of Londoners by setting up a People’s Land Commission to find small sites for new homes, green spaces and community support.

With Londoners, together, we will go out into our city, and find land to use for the things which actually matter, and which build the resilience we need not only to get through this crisis but to be stronger when we face the next challenges in our city. 

The People’s Land Commission is a key policy in my manifesto to work with Londoners to plan the future of our city. It will empower boroughs, councillors, local people and businesses to map their areas and put forward ideas to use land for new homes, green spaces, community infrastructure and businesses from the ground up. 

I believe that local knowledge is the best way to find the right places for new homes, new trees and green spaces, green energy infrastructure, repair and reuse services, new green businesses, new parks, theatres, community and youth centres, or whatever else communities need to build resilience in the recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

The huge responses from people on the ground, from all walks of life, to the climate and ecological emergency and the coronavirus crisis, has shown the potential for local action and local ideas. These can be helped to fly with the new levers and new agency a Green Mayor will provide. 

There are groups meeting every week in all parts of London looking at these issues in detail with ideas that we in City Hall must help to make happen.

London-wide planning work from the grassroots is sorely needed to fill the gaps in the current Mayor’s plans. The small sites policy within his new London Plan ran into difficulties due to a lack of local, detailed planning to support it, and the ‘Small Sites Small Builders’ programme has been very slow to release land and sites, with many small builders struggling to get access to land. The release of small sites owned by Transport for London to community-led housing groups has so far only resulted in two sites being allocated.

Meanwhile, I’ve been more impressed by work in Hackney, where the council commissioned a survey of underutilised land in the borough. Although this wasn’t a community-led project, this work, one the ground looking at where sites were in community use already and removing them from consideration, still found that 20,000 people could be housed in 6,500 new homes on public land. This shows the potential of a wider People’s Land Commission to help solve the housing crisis too.

To bring all these new ideas to life, I’ll support local areas with funding to purchase land – through grants, revolving funds or borrowing that is financed from rents and income resulting from new businesses and homes.

In addition to using existing powers including compulsory purchase orders, I will also continue to lobby central Government for a devolved or national “community right to buy” which will create new rights for local community groups to buy any land or property that is neglected, empty and needed for community uses. This law already exists in Scotland.

By bringing local Londoners and grassroots community groups into the heart of decision making, not just professional planners, I’ll create a model of small scale development which is more “bottom up” than “top down. This is the fresh thinking on housing London needs.