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Local authority issues legal challenge on Mayor’s affordable rent decision

Published Tuesday, 26 November 2013

row of houses

Southwark Council has long campaigned for greater control for local authorities in setting rents in order to make it more affordable, particularly in central London where market rents are high.

Today, the council announces that it has served a statutory challenge to The Mayor, in order to achieve affordable rental levels for residents.

The council sets social rent at around 40 per cent of market rent values, but any new "affordable rented" housing built is subject to restrictions set out in the London Plan, which allows developers to charge 80 per cent of the market rent and still call new homes "affordable" to meet quotas set out in planning applications.

In many parts of Southwark this can amount to well over £1,000 a month and far exceeds what is affordable to the majority of residents who are eligible for social housing - the people which this accommodation is supposed to support.

Southwark Council, alongside its own specific objections, submitted a joint response to the alterations to the London Plan in 2012, on behalf of nine London boroughs.

Officers attended the Examination in Public and put forward the council's view to the Planning Inspector assessing the soundness of the Mayor's proposals.

Southwark Council and other boroughs told the Planning Inspector the Mayor's proposals were too restrictive and not based on evidence of London's housing needs.

It was argued that boroughs should be given more flexibility to use their own expertise to decide how best to seek to meet their housing need within their own borough-specific planning policies.

The Inspector agreed with the boroughs and suggested that the Mayor take the restrictive wording out of the alterations, thereby allowing boroughs to set rent caps or their own criteria for affordable housing if required. The Mayor has rejected the Inspector's recommendation and decided to go ahead anyway.

Southwark Council, alongside other councils including Islington, is making a statutory challenge to this decision.

Councillor Fiona Colley, cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said: "We have challenged the Mayor's decision because this is a vitally important issue for an Inner-London borough like Southwark. Councils need every power possible to ensure rent levels are appropriate and affordable for their residents.

"Maybe there are some areas of London where rent levels of 80 per cent of market rent are affordable to most people, but they certainly aren't in Southwark. The implication of the Mayor's decision is that councils will have little power to make sure new affordable housing is really, genuinely affordable for local people."

The challenge was issued on 19 November 2013 and served on the Mayor and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as an interested party.

A hearing date has not been set but a hearing is expected some time in the spring of 2014.

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