Windfall cash blows in as Tower Hamlets housing waiting list starts tumbling

Mayor John Biggs pointing to East End's mass housebuilding from balcony of Stepney flats under const

Mayor John Biggs pointing to East End's mass housebuilding from balcony of Stepney flats under construction at Jubilee Street. Picture: Kois Miah - Credit: Kois Miah

A £22million windfall has swept into the East End at gale force as a thank you from the government for getting on top of the housing crisis.

More new homes got the green light from Tower Hamlets Council than in any other part of the UK in the last 12 months alone, national statistics show.

The construction boom has landed the council £21.9m from Whitehall as part of the New Homes Bonus scheme to encourage local authorities to pass more housing schemes.

The town hall has been chipping away at its 19,000-long waiting list—the longest in London—with a record number of new homes.

Almost 3,800 were completed in the 12 months up to October by pushing through more planning applications.

"This award reflects our success in house building," Mayor John Biggs said. "The bonus has become more important with our core funding from the government being significantly reduced since 2010."

But the mayor has fired a warning that the cash storm could soon blow dry.

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"We understand the government may 'review' the New Homes Bonus formula, so again we could lose out," he added. "My preference is to be given adequate core funding (for housing).

"We're also making our own contribution to have 2,000 new council homes by 2022, for people on our local housing register."

The bonus could top up the Local Infrastructure fund made up of contributions from developers, which the Labour administration has previously used for park improvements, cycle facilities and sprucing up traditional markets.

But the council's opposition Tory group thinks some of the £22m windfall could be used for revenue-earning investment such as wind farms or to create a network of electric car-charging points across the East End to earn the hard stuff from taxis and other vehicles.

They are putting their ideas forward as an "alternative budget" to the Labour Mayor's proposed budget at the full council in February.

But there is caution over the success of the green light planning policy because roads, public transport, mains gas, water and electricity can't cope with the population explosion. Another 40,000 households are expected in the next 10 years.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake, cabinet member for planning, said: "We receive high levels (of cash) because of continued growth in new homes, but face challenges to make sure the pace of development doesn't create an unsustainable demand on resources.

"We're providing the infrastructure that communities need by making sure developers contribute fairly."

The pinch is worst felt on the Isle of Dogs, which now has the UK's highest-density urban development crammed to the brim with tower blocks all adding strain to services.

The Isle of Dogs' neighbourhood forum is calling for legislation to prevent local authorities like Tower Hamlets passing housing schemes without developers first putting cash up front to pay for services before the first bricks are laid.