Tower Hamlets house-building fastest in UK — yet demand still outstrips supply

Deputy mayor Sirajul Islam. Picture: Mike Brooke

Deputy mayor Sirajul Islam. Picture: Mike Brooke - Credit: Mike Brooke

Tower Hamlets builds more homes each year than anywhere else in England — but it is failing to keep up with the pace of demand, a new analysis shows.

The borough leads the country in the number of new dwellings it has built per year in the decade since the global financial crash, according to government figures.

On average 2,364 additional homes have popped up annually in Tower Hamlets since 2007/08 — nearly half (49 per cent) of those needed to meet long term demand. These include conversions of existing buildings, as well as new builds.

According to government estimates, the borough needs 4,873 new homes each year: the greatest demand on housing of any UK local authority.

The discrepancy between this figure and the council’s estimate, which ranks the borough as the eighth highest demand, is the second biggest of all UK local authorities.

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Analysis by the BBC, shared with the Advertiser, found 80pc (267) of local authority areas across England fell short of the number of new homes Westminster says they need.

Of the 333 regions with comparable data, less than half — 48pc, representing 159 areas — had recovered to pre-recession house-building levels.

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Demand for new homes is particularly pressing in Tower Hamlets, which has no green belt, heritage land or space otherwise protected or restricted from development, the analysis notes.

But, for deputy mayor and housing spokesman Sirajul Islam, a shortage of space is no concern.

Regarding the lack of available land for development, he said: “There is the potential in the long run, I suppose, that in 15 years’ time we may run out of space. But then again, regeneration is regeneration. You kind of recycle things and you knock down old things and build new things.

“We wouldn’t allow developers to start building in our parks, for example, or our open spaces. They are protected, even if they are not officially protected.”

Asked about building homes fast enough to meet demand, he said the council does not “sit back”.

“We want to do the best for our community, and make sure that housing is a very key component of that,” he added.

“We are top of the government’s estimates to build 5,000 homes per year but we are a small borough so it’s difficult to compare us with for example, a city the size of Birmingham.

“The 5,000 government target is massive. That is a pressure that we do feel. That’s where the height and the density [of new homes] comes in. That’s the only way to deliver those numbers.”

Prime minister Theresa May said we need to “fix the broken housing market” last year.

While 217,000 new homes were created in England in 2016/17 — the last full year of data available — representing a five-year high, this was still significantly short of the latest government target of 300,000 new homes a year.

“This government is committed to building a housing market fit for the future,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The 217,000 figure, he said, represented a rise of 15pc on the previous year and “the highest increase in nine years”.

“We have also set out an ambitious programme of reforms to boost housing supply – including planning reform and targeted investment to help us deliver an additional 300,000 properties a year by the mid-2020s,” the spokesman added.

These words rang hollow for James Prestwich, head of policy at the National Housing Federation.

“The research we have carried out suggests that there is a backlog of about four million homes in England alone, and in order to be able to make up that backlog, we need to be building in the region of somewhere around 340,000 a year,” he said.

“That’s more than the government estimate.

“We haven’t been building the homes the country needs for some considerable time. It’s been about 40 years or more since we last built enough homes to keep pace with demand.”

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