By Councillor Shital Manro, Cabinet Member for Good Growth
Our commitment to Ealing in May was to be an open, inclusive and transparent administration. That’s why we’re publishing an interim authority monitoring report (AMR), which analyses all aspects of our performance over the last five years. The AMR provides a comprehensive update on our progress against the priorities set in Ealing Council’s previous local plan – covering housing, business, town centres, social infrastructure and green space.
By outlining what we’ve achieved in the last five years and identifying areas where we might have underperformed, the interim AMR is one part of an ongoing conversation with local people about how we can make Ealing an even better place to live and work.
We want to be transparent about where Ealing Council has not quite met targets over the past five years and be clear about why this might be so we can improve our approach in the future. We’ll continue to set ambitious targets in areas that matter most to residents and involve local people at each step of the way, but we know that the community can only properly engage in decisions if they are empowered to do so. One part of this is being open about where we’ve done well, being honest about the challenges that we face and identifying what we need to improve.
The data shows that Ealing Council has made significant progress throughout the last five years and we’ve overperformed on many of our targets, but there are also areas where we could do better. Ealing is the most ambitious council house building council in London, and we’re on track to hit our ambitious target of 2,500 genuinely affordable new homes in the borough by 2022, but London’s housing market remains broken, and the reality is that most homes across the city are still being built by the private sector. Worse still, the Government continue to set tough housing targets that the Council must meet, with the threat of taking away our powers to control development if we don’t meet them.
This has impacted, for instance, our ability to deliver on our target of 50% of homes built in the borough as genuinely affordable, as not all developments built by the private sector have the same affordable housing requirements as housing schemes delivered by the public sector. The AMR shows that the number of affordable homes being built in the borough has risen significantly over the past few years and we’re making good progress on meeting rising housing targets, but there needs to be a shift at a national level to enable us to deliver the radical house building programme that is so desperately needed across our city.
The AMR also reflects the ongoing disruption caused by Covid-19 and its impact on the construction sector. We’re committed to delivering on a huge programme of investment across the borough to make Ealing an even better place to live and work for everyone, and most of these schemes are already underway, but construction work was delayed for several months due to the pandemic and lockdowns.
Whilst we’ve exceeded targets for sites with planning permissions to build homes or office floorspace, this is partly why the report shows several vacant sites with planning permissions. In the last few years, we’ve also seen a significant number of large regeneration schemes go through the planning process, some that will be delivered over a long period of time, and in a few instances spanning decades.
And whilst the National Planning Policy Framework, controlled by central Government, insists that we must consider every planning application on its merits, we have no control over developers actually building what they get permission for. The Local Government Association estimates that there are at least 1.1 million homes nationwide with planning permission that haven’t been built.
Where construction has started again across the borough, we’re on track for our programme of development schemes to be completed over the next few years, but it’s clear that we need to continue to be ambitious and do more to ensure that sites with planning permissions are turned into good quality homes and workplaces. This is why we’re developing a new Local Plan for the borough that will focus on good growth, inward investment and creating sustainable employment opportunities.
Despite extremely challenging circumstances, Ealing Council’s priority is to protect homes, businesses and jobs in the borough. Local people in Ealing have been hit particularly hard by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic but we are committed to an inclusive recovery where businesses can once again thrive, and people can live in good homes on decent living incomes. Ealing is so much more than a commuter town where the wealthy catch the train to offices in the city whilst everyone else catches the bus to clean them, which is why we’re redoing the Local Plan from scratch to ask local people what change they want to see in Ealing.
We need to be upfront about the challenges that we face, and the local plan needs to ensure that we begin to address significant housing shortages across the borough, with 11,000 families on the housing waiting list. However, it’s also crucial that we protect the characteristics of our towns and ensure that any development and growth is appropriate for the local area. Our priority is achieving this balance, but it’s only going to be possible if local people in Ealing are part of the conversation every step of the way. The AMR is the start of this conversation, and part of our commitment to ensuring that any growth, investment and development across Ealing continues to put local communities in the driving seat.