I was disappointed to read your accusation that Hackney Council is “playing fast and loose with the property market” (Leader, 10 January) by sensibly intervening to protect our town centres from untrammeled growth.
By purchasing key parcels of land in town centres facing the biggest pressures from development, like Dalston and Hackney Central, we aim to protect local residents and businesses from the exact market forces you say we are “taking a punt on”.
Unlike some other councils, we don’t simply borrow money to make investments with the intention of turning a profit, and we have no current external borrowing. Nor are we buying them to gamble on their value increasing. The rent we receive from developments on this land will more than pay for the cost of buying it in the long term. But this is about far more than that.
Long-term thinking is what is needed if we are to responsibly shape the future of our town centres for the benefit of everyone who lives and works here, not just for a privileged few. By owning land, we can better dictate what is built on it – the genuinely affordable housing, workspace and sustainable jobs that residents have told us they want to see. If we didn’t own the land, our only powers would be through the planning process, and these aspirations could be subject to the whims of a developer’s viability tests. New developments won’t always be perfect, and these investments do have to make a return, but our starting point for buying land is that our intervention will secure a better, more social end result than if we simply left it in the hands of the market, investors and developers.
As you rightly say, Hackney faces an unprecedented housing crisis, with 13,000 families waiting for a Council home. However, what we are not doing is choosing between these investments and delivering badly needed social housing. We are doing both. Because of arbitrary Government rules, we’re not allowed to use the reserves we’re using to buy land to pay for new Council housing, and nine years of Government-imposed austerity means that we need to generate new sources of income to maintain essential frontline services. Despite this, Hackney is building nearly 2,000 new homes, three schools and a leisure centre in the next few years by acting as its own developer on land it already owns. More than half of these homes will be for council social rent and shared ownership, not the kind of ‘affordable’ homes some councils purport to build.
I don’t apologise for leading a council that prudently invests in the future of our borough. We will continue to intervene in the market where needed to ensure Hackney remains a place for everyone, no matter your income or background.
Mayor of Hackney