Housing
Iain Wright MP

 Iain Wright MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Delivering Growth in North London - One year on

Date of speech 13 January 2009
Location City Hall, London
Event summary North London Strategic Alliance (NLSA) Conference

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Thank you very much for inviting me to address you this evening.

Today, you are marking a years worth of work - a year in which there has been substantial progress. But of course, circumstances today could hardly be more different than when you first set out your ambitions.

The global economic downturn has had serious consequences for the housing market, and it would be foolish to underplay the impact.

Some families are worried about keeping up mortgage repayments as their jobs are affected. Lending to first time buyers has halved over the past year.

As a result, the rest of the market is stagnating, leading to sharp falls in house prices. And developers are finding it harder to sell new homes.

In central government, our focus is very much on proactively responding and intervening to address these difficulties, restoring stability by rebuilding confidence and reassuring consumers that there is practical support where needed.

For example, we are expanding the help available to those worried about keeping up mortgage repayments and perhaps losing their homes.

We've introduced new schemes to help first time buyers get onto the property ladder without having to overstretch themselves.

We're bringing forward spending on new social housing and repairs to council homes, and buying up unsold stock keeping construction firms open and people in jobs, while also making sure that much needed affordable housing gets built.

And we're working closely with the banks to rebuild their trust in each other and restore lending to consumers and businesses again.

It's going to be a tough year. But I am convinced - and I believe you agree - that there are opportunities as well as challenges ahead.

Not least the Olympics - but also encouraging developments like the launch of the Homes and Communities Agency.

And while it is essential that we're all alert to the immediate crisis, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the longer term goals.

The continuing need to invest in new housing - especially affordable and social housing - and to drive up quality, remains as pressing as ever.

The key to it all really is as simple as increasing supply by building more homes.

If we give up on planning for growth and housebuilding, we're simply storing up greater problems for the future - undersupply once again worsening affordability.

So what does this mean for you locally?

Let me start by saying that the tone of your document is ambitious as well as realistic, and I very much believe that this is the right approach to take.

North London remains an extremely attractive place to invest, to work and to live. It's essential to continue to lay the foundations for further development and growth. Your ambitions for more and better housing remain as relevant today as they were a year ago.

So it's very encouraging to see that a number of you are actually looking to exceed existing housing targets.

All the boroughs are sensibly investing in infrastructure alongside new housing - the shops, schools, green spaces and leisure facilities that make communities tick.

Getting the plans right and the partnerships in place is absolutely critical. But now that in many cases those foundations are in place, now is the time to make sure those plans are brought to fruition as quickly as possible - delivering essential affordable housing, keeping people in work, visibly improving neighbourhoods for the better.

We all recognise the potential in the area. But unless that potential is realised, it doesn't mean very much to local residents desperately in need of homes.

I recently got the chance to see for myself some of the fantastic progress that's been made in North London.

I saw at first hand the regeneration plans for Woodbury Down, the site at Hale Village, and the fantastic Tottenham Marshes - an incredible asset for local people.

The best place to see the project at Central Leeside is - bizarrely enough - from the roof of IKEA - giving you a really good birds eye view of how the developments all link up.

I was also interested to hear about plans for redeveloping Tottenham Hotspur's football stadium which will also involve new housing, similar to what was achieved at Highbury.

We often talk about abstract principles like place-shaping, community engagement, strategic vision. At these sites, you can start to see how those ideas can really have an effect. The depth of commitment, enthusiasm and determination to seeing practical change is really impressive. And those qualities will undoubtedly be critical over the coming months.

Finally, I want to particularly stress to the local authorities here today the important and growing role that they can have - both in responding to the immediate economic difficulties and in planning for the upturn. Taking advantage of some of the opportunities I mentioned before.

Like the greater flexibility on grant rates you can pay for social and affordable housing. The huge spending that's been brought forward to invest in new stock. Cheaper land prices. These are all chances to make sure that much needed affordable housing gets built more quickly - if you work constructively and creatively with local developers.

Some people are looking to the Government to solve all the problems in the housing market. We undoubtedly have a big role to play - both in lessening the impact for homeowners and housebuilders.

But I think these challenges demand more than just Government action. It's going to take a really strong partnership approach, with local authorities, housing associations, and developers all stepping up and being prepared to do things differently.

Already we're seeing some of these new approaches starting to bear fruit - with developers signing up to offer equity loans through HomeBuy Direct, and local authorities getting their mortgage rescue schemes off the ground.

That kind of willingness to try, flexibility, and imagination are going to be critical to success - and I believe are the hallmarks of what's happening in North London. Thank you very much.

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