When asked why the panel will meet in private, the council’s cabinet member for housing insisted there is ‘no real reason’
By Victoria Munro and Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter
A group of eight experts – including the CEO of a major developer – is conducting a “deep-dive” inquiry into the problem of Waltham Forest’s affordable housing.
The Affordable Housing Commission, launched by Waltham Forest Council on 25th January, will meet behind closed doors four times this year before presenting its findings in the summer.
When asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service why the meetings are being held in private, the council’s cabinet member for housing Ahsan Khan insisted there is “no real reason”.
The council hopes the panel will provide recommendations for the next decade of house building in the borough, examining the council’s record so far and the challenges to come.
Over the last decade, only 5% of almost 9,000 homes built in the borough were cheap enough to rent to those on the council’s housing waiting list, which is currently more than 7,000 households long despite a huge number of applicants dropping off the list last year due to a policy change.
The panel – which will hear from senior council leaders, councillors and resident focus groups – is made up of eight experts but only two from housing associations, who manage social rent homes not owned by the council itself.
These are the commission’s chair – Geeta Nanda OBE, CEO of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing – and Fred Angole, who sits on the board of two housing associations and is deputy chief executive of Greater London’s YMCA group.
They are joined by Melissa Tettey, the CEO of Waltham Forest’s branch of Citizens Advice Bureau, and Professor Janice Morphet, an expert in town planning from UCL.
The remaining four experts are representatives from a major private developer, an “independent thinktank”, the UK’s professional body for those who work in housing and a non-profit that promises to “build better cities through knowledge, networks and leadership”.
Rob Perrins is CEO of Berkeley Group, a developer that delivers around a tenth of all new homes in London and is behind the Lea Bridge Gasworks development, currently on hiatus due to “construction industry issues”.
Nick Bowes is CEO of Centre for London, a thinktank “dedicated to researching the city’s critical issues”, which recently received large donations from ridesharing app Uber and Prologis, a real estate investment trust based in San Francisco.
Gavin Smart is CEO of the Chartered Institute for Housing, the professional body for people who work in housing, which “aims to support the housing profession and influence government policy and thinking” and costs a minimum of £20 a month to join at its lowest membership tier.
Finally, Nicola Mathers is the CEO of Future of London, which describes itself as a “hub for sector intelligence, connection and professional development” for those working in “regeneration, housing, infrastructure and economic development”.
At the launch of the commission on 25th January, held at a flat block built by the council’s property developer Sixty Bricks, Cllr Ahsan Khan said he hopes the commission will bring a “fresh pair of eyes” to the council’s policies.
He added: “When we talk about our housing targets, we can get a lot of opposition. It is up to us to ensure that the homes coming forward are meeting local needs.
“That is what we are hoping to get out of this commission – that the homes we are building are responding to local needs and are made for [council] housing residents, for young people and for people working locally.”
Council leader Grace Williams added that the local Labour party is “proud” of its house-building record but admitted the council needs to find “better solutions” to the housing crisis.
She added: “It’s a national scandal that people who work here or go to school here are being forced out – people who can’t afford to continue to live where they grew up. It’s about homes being out of reach in a way they never have been before.
“As councillors we have people coming in every week telling us how difficult it is to find a home in the private sector. It’s clear that at the moment that the government doesn’t have a hope.
“We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can at a local level to do better.”
In the coming months, the group will hold four private sessions to hear evidence from witnesses – including senior council officers, councillors and resident focus groups – before presenting a report of its findings to the council this summer.
When asked why the sessions will not be held in public, Cllr Khan said the issue “just hasn’t come up” as “commissions are not an exact science” but added: “Nothing that is being discussed is controversial.”
Speaking for the borough’s Conservative party, Cllr John Moss later told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We hope that the commission will consider all forms of affordable housing, including those which lead to home ownership.
“We would also like our council to fully embrace the principle of the infrastructure levy in its approach to securing affordable homes in future new developments.”
Following the original publication of this article, a spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council said that, though the meetings will be held in private, minutes of each meeting will be made publicly available.
They said: “The members of the Affordable Housing Commission are industry experts with a wealth of valuable experience. They include house builders, academics, charity trustees, and town planners, all of whom have a deep understanding of the topic.
“The views of residents will be reflected in the commission’s report. Focus groups of local people, representative of the borough’s diverse makeup and communities, will help shape its work.
“The minutes of each meeting will be published in full, and before the commission’s final report is published it will go before a Housing Scrutiny meeting held in public. This is a similar model as used successfully for the Climate Emergency Commission.
“The purpose of the commission is to look at the record of housing in the borough and see what more can be done to build more genuinely affordable homes. We have already committed to building 1000 council homes in this administration and have one of the best records of any London borough in this area. We look forward to the scrutiny the commission and the resident focus groups will bring.”