James Murray: More Friend Than Foe

James MurrayGiven the domination of the housing crisis in the mayoral election almost 6 weeks ago, it was no surprise that when elected, Sadiq Khan put forward radical solutions to try and solve the problem. The appointment of James Murray as Deputy Mayor for Housing was certainly an interesting move and one that made many in our industry nervous about their futures in the capital.

James Murray has a strong track record on the left of the Labour Party and was a formidable opponent in his role as Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration in the London Borough of Islington. Whilst the borough has consistently hit and exceeded their housing targets, many developers have been turned away due to low affordable housing offers. It was therefore unsurprising that concern spread about the possibility of this happening across the capital, with a strict 50% affordable requirement applied to schemes with no negotiation, leading to the stagnation of development – exactly the opposite of what the Mayor wants to achieve.

However, the industry can breathe a sigh of relief as this doesn’t seem to be the case, with Mr Murray himself claiming that the 50% affordability levels are a ‘strategic long-term target’, rather than a necessity. During his time in Islington, 36% of all new build homes were affordable, including 1,160 social rent homes – Mr Murray’s preferred option. He would therefore be hard-pressed to enforce a figure that he himself could not achieve in his Labour heartland, let alone in co-operation with Conservative led boroughs such as Wandsworth, Bexley and Barnet.

In one of his first speaking engagements as Deputy Mayor at a London Chamber of Commerce and Industry event, Mr Murray adopted a conciliatory approach, stressing at length that he wanted to work with all parts of the industry and that his ‘door is always open’.  He went on to highlight his ambition for a quicker planning process, albeit at cost to the developer, as well as the use of brown field public land where possible, although the requirement for a transparent viability process still remains a passion of his and this is the likely item to create the most friction for future applications.

Overall, the fear of change under Mr Murray should be considered much less of a threat than first anticipated, as it would seem that his previous approach towards affordable housing in Islington has become more pragmatic now that he is on a wider stage. However, the first real test for Murray and Khan is likely to be the decision on 225 Marsh Wall, due to be rejected this week by the Tower Hamlets Strategic Development Committee, then straight onto their desks at City Hall.

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